Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Ultimate responsibility

Consider the following scenario. You want to have a new home constructed and employ a builder to do the job for you. You give the builder some basic plans and let him know your budget. Based on this he then comes back with a detailed specification and costs. You discuss these between you, making some adjustments here and there, and then agree on final plans. The builder constructs the house according to the agreed specifications, finishes the job and presents you with the key. At this stage you invite your family to view the new property. They dislike every aspect of the home from the layout to the architectural design and refuse to move there. Who, in this instance, is to blame?

Most people who possess any degree of logic will answer that you are to blame, simply because you are the ultimate decision maker: you signed off the plans and you agreed the specification with the builder; in this case probably doing so without adequately consulting your family. Clearly, so long as the builder has followed the agreement he or she cannot be assigned any of the blame.

Now consider the following scenario. The Department for Transport want to create a new rail franchise and want to have someone run it for them. They provide bidders with a basic specification based on their budget. The bidders then come back to them with detailed plans, and from these the Department picks someone to undertake the running for them. They enter in to some further discussions making adjustments here and there before the plans are finalised. The contractor – let’s call them First Great Western – then starts running the service as per the agreement entered into. However, customers do not like the new service and start complaining. Who, in this instance is to blame?

For most people who are broadly ignorant of the way the system works – and why indeed should they be concerned with it – the blame is assigned to First Great Western as it is the part of the operation most visible to them. Yet, the principles that hold true for the first scenario still hold here. The Department for Transport is the ultimate contract manager: it, and it alone, dictates the type of service it wants and then enters into an agreement with a third party to run that service.

To blame a train operating company like First Great Western for running a service, no matter how inadequate, specified by the Department of Transport is as illogical as blaming a builder who constructed a home based on detailed plans given to him. Certainly, there are areas where First Great Western does need to take responsibility – such as the maintenance of its train fleet – but the overall structure and nature of the franchise is the ultimate responsibility of the government.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You, my friend are a prize cnut