Wednesday, February 25, 2004

You can have a steam train 

I read too many Brit blogs, and then get homesick. When people ask me what I miss about the UK, I have a few pat answers: friends, good beer, decent newspapers, pub conversations, the Royal Mail (RIP), British TV, people getting my jokes … the list goes on. Having lived in London for 6 years or so, blogs like the Big Smoker and Going Underground help to keep me in touch, like knowing that the Post Office has been repaced by something called Consignia, or something. Having been professionally involved with the privatisation of British Railways, I can imagine what this was like.

The following conversation (more or less) took place in about 1995 between a certain wet behind the ears consultant and the chief accountant of what was about to become one of the Train Operating Companies (Great Western, Network Southeast, etc.):

Consultant: “So you can set up this penalty structure [something to do with making other companies’ trains late] to limit your loss to 10% of the contract value.”
Accountant: “So is that realistic?”
C: “What do you mean?”
A: “In business, if you do really badly, is a loss of 10% about right?”
C: “Er, no. In the real world if you do really badly, you go under.”
A: “Oh.”
C: “But you don’t need to worry about that.”

What really happened is that one or two lucky buggers who happened to be in the right place at the right time, and be smarter than your average BR, made a shit load of money at the taxpayers’ expense. The rest of them toddled on pretty much as usual. Then Labour got in, and discovered that one of the main aims of the privatisation had been to make it as difficult as possible to untie the tangled mess, which brings us bang up to date. Anybody got Mussolini’s number?

Listening to: Del Amitri, Waking Hours

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