East Coast Trains – scared of Union reaction on Directors pay?

As a customer of East Coast trains I (along with many commuter friends) believe their service often leaves alot to be desired. They, like many companies have some excellent staff and some not so excellent staff. They are the only publicly owned rail company and as such I believe taxpayers should expect to know a little bit about their organisation.

I tabled three FOI’s a while ago. I’m not a huge believer in tabling hundreds as it diverts resources from an organisation that I would hope could be used in improving the service they give in the first place.

One question related to whether staff were granted free first class travel to work. The answer didn’t really cover what was allowed with regards travel to work, and talked about how many free first class tickets were given for leisure travel to staff. That’s fine. We will get there with that one.

Then I asked how many times first class had been declassified when the train was full (as is allowed) and the company could not say as it is that rare. Yes I know that, but it isn’t rare for people to be standing in standard. That’s the point. But we will also get there with that one.

The final question was the simplest question of the three. I asked:-

What is the name and job title of each Director of East Coast Main Line Company Ltd, and the total value of the remuneration package for each Director of East Coast Main Line Company Limited for each financial year since the company came into existence.

Private sector companies publish what their directors get paid. In fact my wife used to be responsible for the production of the Report and Accounts for a FTSE 100 company which listed the directors and their remuneration packages, so I assume that given the Chancellor only this week suggested he wanted to create a nation of auditors checking what taxpayers money is being spent on. I’m not sure the message has trickled down yet.

Read the full response for yourself, but perhaps you can help me with the following reasons for not telling me, and indeed all commuters and taxpayers what their Directors get paid.

Information regarding the detailed remuneration packages for each of the executive directors of ECML has been withheld as this constitutes personal data the disclosure of which would contravene data protection principles”.

Really? How come in the Report and Account of private companies shareholders can often see the exact salary, bonuses, and pension contributions plus other benefits of specific directors? Is the public sector different?

The response goes on to state that giving the information would prejudice the company for several reasons….

“Third parties such as private rail franchise operators would have have a distinct competitive advantage over ECML in the labour market. If this information were known to competitors they could”:

“seek to entice directors away from ECML’s employment with the offer of preferential terms”

Oh come on! Firstly  I would have thought the industry would generally be aware of what the market rate is for your staff. So when we learn what Justin King gets paid at Sainsbury’s does it mean someone can entice him away with preferential terms. It seems a rather week argument to me for none disclosure.

“if privately operated competitors could not match or provide preferential remuneration or provide preferential remuneration and contract terms to those of ECML, they themselves could be competitively prejudiced in the labour market if their directors learned of ECML’s directors’ remuneration.”

So let me get this. You argue that a competitor may try to poach one of your staff if they knew they were essentially getting paid less, but also use the argument that should your staff be getting paid more it would prejudice private operators. Very confusing.

But given  they also write as part of the response ” Please note that disclosure under FOIA is to be regarded as effectively unlimited disclosure to the public as a whole and not just yourself “I was somewhat taken aback by the final reason to not answer. Did they really want to say this in the public domain?

“third parties, such as Trade Unions, could use the information in circumstances which would lead to unrest within ECML’s workforce. This information, which forms only part of a wider pay and remuneration package could be viewed or relied on in isolation and could represent a detrimental or misleading view of ECML without reference to the complex industry context within which ECML operates particularly having regard to its status as a public owned operator.”

Are you really saying you aren’t prepared to tell me what the remuneration package of your directors is because it may annoy the Unions. Seriously? You are also saying the remuneration package could be viewed in isolation which could be misleading? Well that’s what I’m interested in. What you are paid. If you want to provide more information fine, but that’s no excuse to provide less or none. Finally I am aware that the status is that of being publicly owned, that is the very reason I ask, why I can table on FOI request, and why in the interests of openness and transparency in the public sector both taxpayers and commuters deserve an answer.

9 Responses to East Coast Trains – scared of Union reaction on Directors pay?

  1. paul says:

    This is not uniquely public sector reticence. I requested the name and correspondence address of a manager involved with customer service at Virgin Atlantic, so I could write to a nemed person rather than a department. Declined on "confidentiality" grounds.

  2. editor says:

    Freedom of Information requests only relate to public bodies.

  3. John77 says:

    According to Companies House the company named "East Coast Main Line Co Ltd" is dormant.

  4. John77 says:

    Correction – the company called East Coast Main Line Co Ltd filed accounts at Companies as a dormant company. I was misled because Lord Adonis stated that he was establishing a publicly-owned company to take over the East Coast Franchise, but instead he used a dormant company because it was cheaper.
    Truth, New Labour? How could I be so naive?

  5. Stephen says:

    are you appealing to the Information Commissioner?

  6. editor says:

    Stephen, If other public bodies are publishing the pay and rations of their directors I see no reason why a rail company shouldnt, so I will be pressing this one.

  7. Michael says:

    This is a Civil Service response; written by a lowly grade (Civil Service pay grades are public), redrafted by a more senior grade (every one's a critic in the Civil Service), further redrafted by another, more senior grade, to give it the polish of finesse, and authorised by a very senior grade who checks it complies with the Department's protocols on response to enquiries – i.e. covers all the bases, says nothing.

    In other words, a proper and bespoke response.

  8. editor says:

    Imagine if you replaced East Coast trains with MPs and replaced Unions with the public.

    MPs will not reveal salary and expense details for fear of upsetting the public.

    I think we've been there before.

  9. OperaNut1972 says:

    In response to Paul, it is possible for staff to refuse to give names out only where they fear personal safety may be at risk. All companies with contact centres prefer you to write to the the generic post office box, as this can either be dealt with by a faceless worker, get lost or annoy the complainant into giving up.

    This FoIA request in my opinion does not fall within DPA disclosure as the directors pay will be listed at companies house and thus within the public realm. The other reasons are just posturing. All contact centres send a TS1 letter out in an attempt to make you pit it down. You can imagine what TS means (Tough Luck). Keep battering them. This company sucks, if they didn't run my only rail station I would happily never touch them.

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