Bolivia Newton-John's Blog

Iain Coucher and his “Purely personal reasons” | June 17, 2010

Iain Coucher, the boss of Network Rail (tasked with maintenance of the railway network, but not running trains), is stepping down for “purely personal reasons”. Network Rail owes £26bn in debt from project over-spend and poor management, all of which will be paid by the Treasury, though creative accounting ensures that the debt (and company) remains off-book, and thus was left out of official borrowing figures under the previous adminstration.

Network Rail has a unique status, being neither private, accountable to share-holders, nor public, accountable to government. In fact the company structure Network Rail most resembles is that of shady state-sponsored-but-also-somehow-private monolithic companies that monopolise sectors in China.

Network Rail was set up by Coucher’s consultancy firm on Gordon Brown’s orders after the demise of Railtrack. Coucher became the head of the new quango and has since earned £6m from the taxpayer in the role. Since Network Rail’s inception repair work has taken longer and delays are more frequent, yet bonuses paid to top Network Rail executives are believed to have spiralled. “Believed to” because, inexplicably, Network Rail was granted exemption from the Freedom of Information Act usually granted only to matters of National Security. Thus the increasing financial black hole of Network Rail, £26bn in debt and with radically excessive executive remuneration, has been kept completely out off the government’s debt book and away from public scrutiny.

The new Transport Minister, Phillip Hammond, seeking radical cuts to make, part of a new government apparently obsessed with transparency, and with zero incentive to protect Labour’s debt record, was clearly going to start with Network Rail, removing FoI exemption, placing Network Rail’s finances within the remit of the new Office for Budget Responsibility (and it’s executive pay structure within the remit of the Department of Transport) and almost certainly replacing Coucher and his friends. By leaving before this happens, Coucher escapes haranguing from the press and walks away with a golden handshake that a cynic may assume is rather generous.

I suppose that counts as “purely personal reasons”. If you believe that, I have some beach-front property in Birmingham I’d like to show you.


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1 Comment »

  1. I’m enjoying your blog which is laudably free of opinionising and to the point. I like your name too which is rather silly but none the worse for that.

    Comment by Andrew Roberts — August 10, 2010 @ 2:21 pm

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About author

Bolivia Newton-John is an enthusiast from South East London. She will be mostly writing about society, anthropology, politics and entertainment, though hopefully in a less pretentious manner than here indicated. Bolivia Newton-John likes diplomacy, irony, and seeing the big picture. Bolivia Newton-John dislikes misanthropy, self-importance, and censorship.







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