Friday, 11 May 2007

Unfair dismissal

In my opinion, David Drew the Member of Parliament for Stroud does a dreadful job. Quite frankly, I don’t think he is fully capable of discharging the duties of an MP and, in all honesty, he should be removed from his post forthwith.

These are not really my views. Neither are they necessarily true. For all I know, Mr Drew probably does a very good job of representing his constituents. Statements of the type above are extremely easy to make and they are excellent ways, for those in positions of responsibility, to capture a piece of the limelight. Yet they are both ill considered and thoughtless.

For one thing, unless he does something completely illegal, Mr Drew has, through his election, a contract with his constituents. The majority voting for him agreed to elect him for a full term of office. You don’t have to agree with his election, of course, but the way the electoral system is structured is such that Mr Drew has an absolute right to serve for a full term, as does any Member of Parliament.

I am sure that Mr Drew would agree entirely with the above logic, which is why it is a pity he is unable to apply it to the commercial world. For those not aware, Mr Drew is the latest MP to call for First Great Western to lose its franchise. Such a manoeuvre – which could be known as 'doing a May' (after the ever disagreeable Theresa May, the first to employ the strategy) – is highly cynical.

Unless it breaches the terms of its contract, which it hasn’t, First Great Western can’t simply be ‘sacked’ from the Greater Western franchise; just as Mr Drew can’t be removed from office. Mr Drew should be well aware of this fact, and if he isn’t then he clearly isn’t qualified to make comments on this matter and should keep his views to himself. The likelihood is, of course, that Mr Drew is aware and that, despite this, he is trying to score some cheap political points to curry favour with the electorate of Stroud. This is nothing more than the politics of irresponsibility and it's one of the reasons MPs are held in such low esteem.

This is not to say that Mr Drew can’t, or shouldn’t, criticise First Great Western. With just cause, he has every right to. But he should be open and honest with the electorate and not call for things he knows are impossible.

If Mr Drew sincerely wanted a better service his time would be better spent applying pressure to the Department for Transport to ensure that First Great Western is able to keep the class 180 Adelante trains and that the Department stops its meddling in the rail system which is making life a misery for passengers.

These things may not be dramatic and exciting headline grabbers, but they represent a far more realistic and honest approach to the debate over the future of the Greater Western rail franchise.

207 comments:

1 – 200 of 207   Newer›   Newest»
Billyo said...

FGW's contract stimplates a minimum service to be provided to customers.

This includes reliability and punctuality targets.

FGW regularly miss these targets.

Is this not a breach of contract?

Anonymous said...

There may be no legal basis to sack First from the franchise (although I suspect that if the DfT had teh will it would find a way), but that doesn't make it illegal or immoral for an MP or for a member of the public to critise FGW and to call for them to be sacked.

I kick up a stink about FGW's appaling service and wear by "I hate FGW" badge with pride. At the very least I hope that it will damage the reputation of First sufficiently so as to either impact on their share-price or result in them not winning any further franchises. You argue for a market driven solution to the railways. In my view the best thing about a free market is that rubbish companies go bust and good companies profit. I regard FGW as a rubbish company that do not deserve to suceed and will support any MP who says critises them in the hope that some of the mud will stick.

CJ Harrison said...

Billyo, even if those targets are missed it is not necessarily a breach of contract. I believe that the franchise agreements of most TOCs allow for some targets to be missed without there being the threat of losing the franchise. The bar for losing the franchise is set quite high.

You’d also have to look at who was to blame for missed targets. It would be unfair – and unenforceable in a contractual sense – to hold FGW or any other TOC accountable for delays caused by Network Rail. And Network Rail does cause a lot of the delays.

CJ Harrison said...

"There may be no legal basis to sack First from the franchise (although I suspect that if the DfT had teh will it would find a way), but that doesn't make it illegal or immoral for an MP or for a member of the public to critise FGW and to call for them to be sacked."


I never claimed it was illegal or immoral for anyone, MP or otherwise, to attack or complain about First Great Western. Indeed, if you read what I said I specifically stated: “This is not to say that Mr Drew can’t, or shouldn’t, criticise First Great Western. With just cause, he has every right to”.

My complaint, and the thrust of the blog entry, is that politicians, of all shades, make cheap and careless calls for things they know full well are impossible. First Great Western cannot be sacked, as Mr Drew should be aware, when it has not breached the terms of its contract.

And that it can’t is quite right. Law, whether contractual or otherwise, must be well defined and based on objective standards. We simply can’t have the country run on the random whims of non-objective law with contracts being reneged on by the government. How would you like it if despite having a contract offering you some protection, your employer suddenly dispensed with your services with no notice period, no compensation and no justification? If you accept that such a thing would be unfair and unjust then you must also accept that it would be equally unjust for the same to happen to First Great Western.

You may disagree with the nature of the contract or you may think that the standards required should be far higher and that it should be easier to remove the franchise from an underperforming operator. You are entitled to those views and they may even well be valid: but once an agreement is made, no matter how unsatisfactory, it has to be abided by. In any case, the Department for Transport set and write the contract so they, and they alone, must take responsibility for its shortcomings.

Anonymous said...

As you are adamant that FGW is not in breach of its franchise contract, perhaps you could enligten us all to what is in the contract, and what (hypothetically) would constitute a breach.

As I understand, even if it is in breach, there has to be a 'breach warning' issued by the DfT and an opportunity for remedial action to be taken.

If there had been a 'breach warning' it is unlikely either party would discuss this in public.

Of course the last thing DfT want to do is have to re tender another expensive franchise, having been promised large, back loaded premium payments that failed to materialise e.g Virgin Cross Country, GNER.

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