Friday, February 19, 2010

Transport Forum Head Responds To Rail Freight Group Chief's Criticism

Baroness Greengross Answers To Lord Berkeley's Comments
Shipping News Feature

UK – On the 26th of January, 2010, we published an article in which the report on rail privatisation by a transport forum headed by Baroness Sally Greengross was heavily criticised by Rail Freight Group (RFG) Chairman, Lord Tony Berkeley.

The Baroness has now detailed her response to the Handy Shipping Guide and we publish her comments in full below:

"Tony Berkeley’s comments on the paper I recently published, ‘Public Procurement – the Lessons of Rail Privatisation’, contain some very sound remarks but, unfortunately, seem totally to misunderstand the drive and purpose of the report.

"The very first paragraph of the Executive Summary says in the clearest words I could find “This paper attempts to identify lessons that have been learnt from the privatisation of the railways which might have wider relevance for the procurement of public services in general”. Indeed, so anxious have I been to have the Paper seen in that light that the first words in my forward say: “I have convened the Forum…” (the group that were instrumental in doing the real work) “…in response to the wide public interest in the way services, which in the past were provided publicly, are being sourced from the private sector”.

"Again, as I wrote in that forward “…in sectors like Transport, Health Care and Education control is being rolled back from what was largely a State funded, commissioned and provided set of services to a complex mixed economy of public, private and 3rd sector funding and provision.

"Few people today seem to deny that the current economic climate is bringing pressure for more and more examination of how we procure public services in general. It would be unforgiveable if we did so without looking at the privatisation of the railways to see whether there are lessons that can be learnt there.

"It is because of that, because it is not, and had never set out to be, a definitive work on rail privatisation as such, that it omits a great deal including – as Mr Berkeley so rightly spots – the whole field of rail freight.

"I am sure that there are many other lessons that the rail privatisation and the history of rail freight also teach us. Would that the Forum had had the time or resources to examine those as well! All we have tried to do is to pull out what we consider to be the most significant of those lessons – and above all the over-riding necessity for everything in a public procurement exercise to be clear, explicit and honest. If rail privatisation had taught us nothing else, that alone would be a lesson well worth learning.

"Mr Berkeley is, though, absolutely right when he says the Report is not about Rail privatisation as such. All the Report does – and says time after time that it is doing – is to draw out some of the lessons that have been taught in the hope that they can guide us in public procurement in the future. If some of those lessons are, as they are very likely to be, ones that can help guide us in rail procurement itself then so much the better.

"The paper is not, as the freight example Mr Berkeley gives shows, meant as an A – Z guide to rail privatisation. Everyone who helped to produce the Report felt very strongly from the very beginning of the exercise that this was a fundamental and important point. Would that I had the skill or the resources to even attempt to produce such a definitive work. The Report is, in its humble way, an attempt to draw out some lessons that we should learn from what has happened and apply them to the seemingly ever growing field of public procurement.

"Indeed I am grateful to Mr Berkeley, although I doubt whether this was his intention, for bringing out one lesson to be learnt – that one should never assume that something is clear just because you have spelt it out several times. The good thing, however, and I am extremely grateful to the Forum who made the Paper possible, is that feedback I am getting from various quarters indicate that some of the lessons we drew out seem to have resonated in places where they might have some effect."