Tom Richmond: Time blundering bosses were made accountable

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IF the case for new accountability laws in 2015 had not already been made, it has been now thanks to Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne.

He is the blundering boss who is having to forgo a performance-related pay bonus of up to £135,000 after over-running engineering work plunged the East Coast Main Line between King’s Cross and Yorkshire into chaos.

Good.

I’m sure it would have been rubber- stamped, unless stricken passengers had not reacted with anger and bewilderment to the chaotic delays which totally wrecked their Christmas travel plans.

After all, Mr Carne already earns a reported £675,000 year and the benevolence of these bonuses is symptomatic of the extent to which such payments are being made to the already well-remunerated people who are effectively public servants.

While bosses of Stock Market-listed companies can be accountable by their shareholders, travellers have very little say – if any – in the bonus payments available to senior executives in the railway industry, or other firms subsidised by taxpayers.

This must change. Such entitlements must be earned and should require the individuals concerned to meet performance criteria agreed, in advance, by the public transport watchdogs.

Yet it does not end here. After the 2014 news agenda was dominated by a succession of ‘reward for failure’ scandals in the public sector – and the continuing fallout from the Rotherham sex grooming scandal – I’m even more convinced about the need for the law to be tightened in the coming 12 months.

Phil Morley, the chief executive who left Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust weeks before the publication of a damning Care Quality Commission report into his management, should not have been allowed to walk into another comparable job within the NHS.

Morley, who once dressed as Superman in a cringeworthy staff morale stunt which backfired, should have been barred from working within the NHS until he had been held to account for his mismanagement in Hull, not least his £50,000 credit card bill.

I believe the same principle should apply to individuals like Joyce Thacker, the children’s service director who finally stepped down from her post at Rotherham Council after being publicly humiliated by Parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee.

She, and others like her, should not be eligible to apply for posts within the public sector until all outstanding questions about the abuse cover-up have been answered. The same principle applies to Janet Ashby, the finance director sacked for gross misconduct over accounting irregularities at Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. It plunged millions of pounds into the red only weeks after she predicted it would achieve a small surplus. A way has to be found to spare the public purse from such incompetence.

In a year when a general election will provide the ultimate test of accountability, I sincerely hope such changes will be introduced at the earliest opportunity for one very good reason – I believe such safeguards and scrutiny will lead to better governance. Who can argue with that?

DESPITE the paucity of original entertainment on television over Christmas, there is still one actor capable of bringing a smile to the faces of his viewers. Take a bow, Sir David Jason. Best known for his role as Del Boy in Only Fools and Horses, his appearances in Roy Clarke’s Still Open All Hours – chronicling the trials and tribulations of a Doncaster shopkeeper – were worth the BBC licence fee alone. Praise indeed, but why can’t there be more light entertainment like this?

TEN years after the Freedom of Information Act was passed into law, I’m surprised the Government is refusing to disclose David Cameron’s bill for wining and dining celebrities, politicians and other prominent figures at his grace-and-favour country home.

The Cabinet Office insists “centralised” records mean it would be too expensive to provide details of the Prime Minister’s spending at Chequers, and that of his Lib Dem deputy Nick Clegg at Chevening. I disagree. They should have nothing to fear from such scrutiny – provided, of course, that they have nothing to hide in this new era of accountability.

TALKING of transparency, it has taken 30 years for correspondence to be made public revealing Margaret Thatcher’s concerns that soldiers serving in Northern Ireland – then one of the most dangerous places in the world – did not have adequate boots. She was contemptuous of the Ministry of Defence’s lame excuses and threatened to pass on details of their obfuscation to Sir Antony Jay, the Yes Prime Minister scriptwriter.

Yet, because of this time lapse, it will take until 2033 before the country learns whether Tony Blair was similarly diligent after equipment deficiencies, specifically a shortage of combat body armour, were blamed for the death of Shipley soldier Stephen Roberts – the first UK fatality of the Iraq war.

In the meantime, delays in the publication of the Chilcot report until after the election (presumably so as not to embarrass Labour) have not stopped Blair’s then foreign policy adviser ,Sir David Manning, being made a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, one of the highest gongs going, in the New Year Honours.

It stinks.

A NEW culture of openness also needs to extend to the Cabinet Office where the decision to omit Welcome to Yorkshire chief executive Gary Verity from the New Year Honours is particularly perplexing.

I can only assume that Hugh Robertson and Helen Grant, the past and present sports Ministers, had a say because they did not like the manner in which Yorkshire beat Edinburgh for the right to host the Tour de France.

This snub is even more surprising because of the sheer number of livelihoods now totally dependent on Yorkshire’s tourism industry, which has been transformed into a world-leader by Mr Verity’s ‘can do’ attitude.

I’m afraid the plaudits that Mr Verity received last July from the Prime Minister and his deputy now look rather hollow.

However, there was one other name which appeared to be missing in action. The individual concerned? None other than Jonny Wilkinson, English rugby’s hero of 2003 and who finished his career by conquering Europe with Toulon. He is hero-worshipped by the French.

I can think of few finer sporting role models and I, for one, would not have begrudged raising a glass to Sir Jonny.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk