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Assets

23.11.91 Financial Times

Your report "Putting Value on the lines", 18 November is inaccurate in several respects. You claim that in 1948 BR ceased to show asset value & depreciation. That is incorrect. This information was included in Annual Accts from 1948 onwards. The form of accounts is directed by the MoT in accordance with his powers under 1947, 1953 & 1962 Acts & no change may be made without his authority.  There is no mention in Acts that BR should be run as a social service although that became expectation of the public, elected representatives & media. You overlook assets are worth so much because of Private Sector pricing, which also accounts for UK industry losing a world lead in so many fields, indeed withdrawing completely from some. I do not share your view that asset management is old hat to the average business manager - were it so we would not be reading reports of hostile takeovers in which a predator proves a victim is failing to do exactly that. Furthermore, many of us in my day with BR, laboured to avoid capital & revenue waste, invariably against objections of the public, media, elected representatives & CTCC.

 

10.1.92 Financial Times

I refer to your letter of 7 January, & must tell you your article was unambiguously incorrect in the following respects:-

1. "from 1948 cost of tracks, signalling & stations was written off". That is completely wrong. I have copies of 1957 & 1961 Accts, which show, as they had done from 1948, values of "Land, Buildings, P-Way etc." Likewise, my copies of Accounts for 1964 & 1971 show "Way & Structures, Operational Land, & set out values thereof. Even as late as 1987, a summarised value of "Buildings, Way & Structures" was shown. (NB The "P-Way", or "Way", is the Track, including structures, which you say was not shown).

2. "On nationalisation in 1948...... purpose of newly merged railways was to provide social service rather than run a commercial service". You now state "there was no suggestion BR was required by law to run as a social service".  What exactly do those words mean because they convey the meaning you now refute. The phraseology of Section 3 (4) of the 1947 Act does not support your statement. Where else, or by whom else than Government, would the "purpose" be specified? Incidentally, if you refer to my letter, you will find I made no reference to this issue.

Your reply is further incorrect:-

3. I made no reference to private sector pricing. So far as company balance sheets are concerned, I am only too well aware how assets can be under or over valued to present a preferred picture.

4. Your reply ignores my point that BR accounts are prepared in accordance with Ministerial directives, so if assets, having a current value, had not been included, it could only be by his/her directive. Finally, may I inform you that managers took a very active interest in asset costs during my 40 years with BR. Track reductions, singling of lines, junction simplifications, rolling stock economies & other measures, often in the face of public or staff opposition, provide ample proof. All proposals for renewal track, signalling, etc were subject to review & authorisation & were only given after careful consideration of all alternative options. What you believe is a new approach, is "old hat" to many of us who worked for BR, certainly into the last decade. What you describe is a partitioning of assets to new business groupings. Your decision not to print denies readers the opportunity to exercise their own minds in reaching a conclusion.

 

[From 1948 to 1961, Annual Accounts included :-  Table V-8 (Rolling Stock, Vehicles, Ships, Plant & Equipment - Capital Account movements),   Table V-9 (Rolling Stock, Vehicles, Ships, Plant & Equipment - Depreciation), Table V-10 (Land, Buildings, Permanent Way, & Other Works - Capital Account expenditure), Table V-11 (Maintenance Equalisation Account Movements). These tables gave far more detail than one finds in typical major UK company accounts. From 1962 to 1984/85, Accounts included  Table 3-A (Rolling stock, vehicles, ships, plant & equipment - Capital Account & Depreciation movements),

Table 3-B (Way & Structures, Operational Land & Buildings not in Operational Use - Capital Account & Amortisation movements). Thereafter, Annual Accounts include Table 13 (Tangible Assets - Buildings, Way & Structures, & Rolling Stock, Plant & Equipment - Capital Account & Amortisation & Depreciation movements)  Annual Accounts explained  basis of Depreciation & Amortisation). Depreciation - BR could have copied roads where there are no business accounts & no depreciation].

 

Interference

11.2.97 BBC2 (Not broadcast & no reply)

On BBC2 on 2nd Feb, Prof. John Kay, (London School Economics), said: "What happened when firms were nationalised, they were given lot of authority & freedom to manage own affairs, & gradually, Govt came to interfere more & more & impose a more extensive range of controls". So far as railways are concerned, he was mistaken. Other nationalised industries, were given a measure of managerial freedom, but BR was rigidly controlled. Their prices were fixed by a Court of Law; endeavours to eliminate unprofitable activities were delayed & blocked by Ministers & agencies they had appointed to exercise almost limitless interference; they were told to pay higher wages than they cd afford or intended to do; they were directed to pay subsidies to privately owned bus coys when unprofitable lines were closed after protracted delays, proving the unprofitability of routes; they could not develop land. An Advisory Group of businessmen, appointed by Govt criticised the scale of interference". Its findings were secret for 30 years. Most  recommendations were not implemented by Govt which retained its grip on decisions regarded as basic management decisions elsewhere. Several media reports linked policies with electoral or political purposes.

 

Litter

16.1.09: e-mail Daily Telegraph (Not published)

The dumping of litter on railways (Letters, 16 January), is an old problem. In Coventry, staff named one line “the cat & dog line” because of the scale of dead animals thrown on linesides. I re-named it “the mattress & perambulator line” from the greater incidence of those items. My response to a sarcastic jibe from Merseyside Council, about the problem, was for them to provide skips nearer to houses than the railway line. I outlined the cost and delay caused when removing this debris – some of which interfered with services, e.g. when objects damaged overhead wires. In Chester, we were urged by a local paper to employ more staff to clear litter. I pointed out that culprits ignored metre square bins. If we adopted the suggested policy, we would solve the unemployment problem at a stroke. The problem is widespread. One need look no further than a carpark, where rings of litter surround cars.

 

Mussolini

10 Aug 2007 Daily Record

I was astonished to find that John McKie had repeated the popular myth that Mussolini made the trains run on time (28 July 2007). He quotes no source. Having noticed this kept rearing its head in the media - often coupled with a threat to shoot drivers - I decided to research the facts. Mussolini's autobiography does not mention such a threat nor even claim that railways were reliable, a boast he would not have concealed. He admits that he got rid of critical editors and journalists. Six biographies of Mussolini and Fascism do not make the claim. Hoping to end this myth I set out these facts in a book: Britain's Railways - the Reality, which, demonstrated that nationalised railways had achieved much more than they were credited with. It torpedoed myths which claimed to compare nationalised railways unfavourably with UK industry, privatised railways, etc. Anyone who had paused for a moment would have realised that if Mussolini had merely threatened to shoot drivers, no one would take that job. Anyone who knows the first thing about railways knew that punctuality is not solely in the hands of drivers. This basic fact was not comprehended by the new boys who came in with trumpets blaring the message that they would induce drivers to run faster to maintain punctuality! 

 

27.5.09: e-mail Daily Telegraph (Not published)

I am astonished to see your leader (25 May) regurgitating the myth that Mussolini got Italian trains to run on time. My findings from eight biographies, Mussolini’s autobiography, and two books on the Fascist era reveal that the claim is a myth. The findings are set out on my website www.transportmyths.co.uk . He never threatened – as editors and politicians believe – to shoot train drivers. He did shoot some editors and politicians.

 

2.7.09 e-mail Daily Telegraph (Not published)

I cannot believe that you have repeated the unfounded claim that Mussolini made trains run on time. I have written repeatedly to the media on this subject. To save journalists having to work too hard, I summarised the facts on the performance of Italian railways from eight biographies of Mussolini, his autobiography and two books on Fascist Italy. They reveal beyond peradventure that it was a convenient myth to make Fascism look good. The only people he threatened to shoot were Italian editors who were not so gullible as foreign editors. The facts were mentioned in my book "Britain's Railways - the Reality", were documented at length in the Journal of the Railway & Canal Historical Society, and finally are repeated on my web site www.transportmyths.co.uk 

 

 

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