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The bus stops here

Barry Turnbull on the departure of Merseytravel's two main drivers

Written by . Published on June 13th 2012.


The bus stops here

THINK great duos: Rodgers and Hammerstein, Keegan and Toshack, Laurel and Hardy.

And then from the sublime to the ridiculous; Posh and Becks, Rod Hull plus Emu and now Scales and Dowd.

According to Councillor Joe Hanson, there is poor governance, poor practices, lack of value for money, a gravy train mentality and the whole set up smacks of an old boy’s club

Rarely have two individuals controlled a public body for so long. Merseyside’s transport policy was in the vice-like grip of Chief Executive and Director General Neil Scales along with Chairman Mark Dowd for years.

Inevitably, it has finally ended in tears, with calls for Dowd’s resignation prompting him to do the honourable thing and fall on his sword.

Scales, on the other hand, nipped out the back door six months ago to take charge of Brisbane’s transport network on a doubled salary of £300,000. Are the Aussies as mad as us?

The nadir of the pair's accomplishments was reached in 2005 when their Merseytram vanity project collapsed at a cost of £70m of public cash - £28m sqaundered on consultants, £15m on utilities work and £17m on design and other costs.

Yet they stayed in the job. Later, district auditor Judith Tench described Merseytravel’s management as weak and its risk practices ineffective.  

But it didn’t start there. In 2002 when the duopoly was running things, the District Auditor laid a charge that the transport system offered poor value for money.

So, with two incriminating reports under their belt, Scales and Dowd decided they had better make an effort. On paper, these days, there are risk and financial monitoring systems in place, a standards committee, a risk management forum and they follow the Best Value accounting code of practice.

Has this improved matters? Not according to Cllr Joe Hanson, a Merseytravel board member whose report led to calls for Dowd’s removal.

According to him there is poor governance, poor practices, lack of value for money, a gravy train mentality and the whole set up smacks of an old boy’s club.

Let’s also not forget the failed trolley bus scheme of 1999 and the failed £450m tram revival scheme in 2009.

MerseytramMerseytram

How did this go on for so long? For years Scales and his mate Dowd were supported by the majority Labour group at Merseytravel - made up of members of the five local authorities. To give them their due, they did turn Miseryrail into a more effective and performance-driven service and this gave them a lot of bargaining power.

In addition they both had very good national reputations, indeed Scales received an OBE in 2005.

Also Scalesy is a very affable fellow. I attended briefings at the Post and Echo where he held court, charmed the editors and proved to be a very persuasive communicator.

I didn’t buy it. I once asked an awkward question that was almost frowned on - and I didn’t get the answer (to do with finances) either.

Neil, a fellow north-eastener, laughed it off with a quip about my hometown and its reputation for hanging monkeys.

I later rang his press office to see if they could provide me with the answer. What followed was bizarre to say the least.  I was told there were no press officers available but I could leave a message. I was put through to what I assumed was some sort of assistant or secretary. I left my query and hung up.

The next day my phone rang and the press officer, a grizzled veteran of Fleet Street, opened with both barrels and, in astonishing tirade, accused me of dubious journalistc practices and  subterfuge. Almost gleefully, he shrieked about having me caught out on tape.

It seems I hadn’t spoken to a secretary at all, but had been put through to an entirely different department. My accuser seemed to think I had deliberately misrepresented myself in my quest for information. Of course it was wrong, and totally over the top, but it did suggest my PR man might have been given a savage kicking from above. He later apologised.

As a Wirral resident, I often banged on about the borough being used as a cash cow for the rest of Merseytravel. They didn’t like that either. Accounts show £5.3m was creamed off the tunnels income last year for general funds.

Despite Scales' pitiful track record with trams he was co-opted on
to Edinburgh’s tram project as a non executive director. He resigned last year after costs went up from £200m to £700m.

MerseytravelMerseytravel

The wheels in the duo's relationship started falling off exactly a year ago. Scales was in favour of Merseyside becoming the pilot project for something called vertical integration whereby the transport body would run the trains, tracks and stations.

When unions objected strongly to this idea, Labour Councillor Dowd did a swift U-turn and killed it off. After that, the pair started drifting apart, like a couple who have seen too much of each other. 

So Scales is lapping up the sunshine in Queensland and Dowd is back to Bootle minus his £63,000 allowances.

A new chairman of Merseytravel will be voted in on June 28 with plenty of political jockeying for position already taking place.      

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Georgina OwenJune 14th 2012.

Gravy train......Old boys club, the betting is open on who takes over the Chair - Dean 11/8 on, Hanson Even money......yes Gravy train and old boys club is spot on.

AnonymousJune 14th 2012.

What, Dean Sullivan?

1 Response: Reply To This...
Georgina OwenJune 14th 2012.

No worse than that......Alan Dean, and to think Dave Hanratty has picked up the Chair of the Fire Authority, hmmmm the Liverpool Labour Gravy train is moving quicker than HS2

RobertJune 28th 2012.

Rich pickings indeed.
Merseytravel was being used as a political football - yet despite their Labour Party connections (Scales was a behind the scenes man), the Labour Govt did nothing for them (trolly bus / tram / bus legislation...).
Their reign helped push-up bus fares, for they were diametrically opposed to providing public money for facilities by which private bus operators could make money from. Surely it's better to have good facilities, neat new buses to further attract pasengers to generate the revenue to keep fares down?
De-politicise the Passenger Transport Authority is a way forward - afterall after the debacle of Merseytram, which Councillor stood up and stated on their election leaflets " I voted for a futile, loss making scheme"?
All Councillors from this era need to go - they have let the city down.

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