It used to be said of the medical profession that spread thinly they did a lot of good but gathered together in a heap, they gave off a very bad smell. They are certainly creating a fair old stink around the South West at the moment over plans by a group of NHS trusts to connive at imposing cuts in pay, holidays and other contractual conditions on their staff. Here’s the RCN’s view in a report published this week.

The draft strategy the cartel has drawn up is widely available on the web – a 27-page pdf of health management jargon. Here’s an  extract.

Apart from the highlighted phrase (which says absolutely nothing yet tells you a great deal about the person who wrote it) there are numerous lapses into Old Testament English, which is making a comeback in public sector documents.

Using ‘whilst’ and ‘amongst’ are presumably an attempt to sound authoritative but just makes the management sound increasingly detached from the main job of looking after you and me when we are sick. That rather important part of the service is referred to in the document as ‘staff side’, which only reinforces the ‘them and us’ approach.

Two lessons to be learned here. First, always assume that a confidential document, especially one as explosive as this, will find its way into the public domain. Second, check that it passes basic rules of Plain English. And putting up a website after the event doesn’t really undo the damage.


FirstGroup: where did it all go wrong?

by admin on July 5, 2012

Move over bankers. FirstGroup has now taken your place (not for long) in the stocks of public censure after elbowing that nice Mr Branson aside in the contest for the West Coast mainline franchise.

Unusually, the company faces as much criticism from shareholders and financial institutions as it does from its passengers (sorry, ‘customers’). The general concern is that the ‘salesmen’ have promised rather more than can be delivered by the drivers, guards, ticket sellers, maintenance staff and everyone else who actually knows what it takes to run a railway.

It’s often forgotten – if you were ever aware of the fact – that the huge transport conglomerate FirstGroup has very humble origins, and not from Scotland as the BBC would have you believe. Who remembers Badgerline, a humble operator of nationalised bus services between Bristol, Bath and surrounding towns and villages in Somerset?

After bus services were privatised, the managing director of Badgerline, Trevor Smallwood, remortgaged his house to lead a buyout in 1986 with support from 70 members of staff, including drivers and fitters. In exchange for £2.3 million, the government handed over 400 buses and responsibility for 700 employees.

Over the next seven years Badgerline bought up nine more bus companies from Essex to Cornwall and the company was floated on the stock market in 1993 with turnover of £200m.

Two years later Badgerline, now with a stake in the Great Western Trains franchise, merged with Grampian Regional Transport, led by Moir Lockhead, to form FirstGroup and in 1996 the enlarged group took a controlling interest in Bristol Airport.

At around this time I was invited to a dinner for City editors (at The Ivy no less), to hear a presentation of the company’s performance and prospects. The most interesting aspect, among all the talk of PE ratios and gearing figures, was that the group flourished under the unusual combination of an executive chairman Smallwood and chief executive Moir Lockhead. How did they know they could get along? “Because at bus industry events we were always last out of the bar,” according to Smallwood. Made sense to me.

By the time he retired from FirstGroup as executive chairman in 1999, Smallwood had helped to build a build a business with 40,000 employees making an annual profit of £90m. Trevor, one of the ‘good guys’ in the world of business who had risked his own home to launch the whole shebang, focused his energies on the important things in life – his family, a number of charities and supporting Clevedon Town FC – as well as other business interests. Ten years later he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Laws by the University of Bristol.

FirstGroup had by this time gone international, taking over that American institution Greyhound as well as operating 57,000 school buses across the USA and Canada. Not surprisingly perhaps it now has an American leading the business, Tim O’Toole, who splits his time between the Aberdeen HQ and Philadelphia where he and his wife have their main home. Now he’s fighting back.


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