To the Kent and East Sussex Courier for a fix of Southeastern news – a report from the company’s “meet the manager” session at Cannon Street station the other morning.
It’s full of the usual stuff about how the company’s not serving its long-distance commuters very well, and it didn’t seem as if managing director Charles Horton went down a storm.
“Tim Watts, who commutes from Robertsbridge, confronted Charles Horton, the company’s managing director, over recent price hikes.
But he said: “The answer I got was a long and enthusiastic explanation of how Southeastern are allowed to increase their average price by RPI+3 per cent, how they have obligations to shareholders and loads of other mumbo jumbo I couldn’t keep up with.
“I got the feeling he was quite pleased he could fleece so much money from the taxpayer and traveller and his attitude was the exact opposite of contrite and apologetic.
“Essentially he said that the price rises were the fault of the Government and the franchise system.”
Actually, Horton’s got a point – Southeastern’s business model was signed off by the last Labour government and is now overseen by the current incumbents, but it was Southeastern’s decision alone to hike its fares, which for us metro service users are now the most expensive in London.
The telling line for me, though, came right at the foot of the story.
The Courier was barred from speaking to managers but Southeastern spokesman Jon Hay-Campbell claimed the meeting had been productive.
Cue some Comical Ali stuff about how some people were passing on compliments. Which doesn’t answer anyone’s questions.
Something to hide? What is Southeastern’s problem in dealing with the press? The company’s reputation stinks. It badly needs to get its message across. How on earth is banning a local newspaper from speaking to its top brass going to help achieve that? What the hell is Southeastern’s PR team on? Are the walls of their office padded?
The sad thing is that those managers will know more about the service than the PR department ever will – remember the disastrous appearance by one of its public relations team on regional TV in Kent, going on about a website which still doesn’t work, who’d earlier that week been told by LBC’s Nick Ferrari to go away and come back when she knew what she was talking about when she was caught hopelessly under-prepared for an interview.
Remember, this is the company which “doesn’t respond to blogs, etc”, but running away from the rest of the media seems even more insane.
I can understand that managers might want to speak to customers in some kind of confidence, but surely reporters should simply have been told to go away for an hour, get a cup of coffee and come back when it’s quieter and then be treated to a proper chat with the bosses? Banning them from any kind of contact only makes it look like there’s something to hide, and in the long term is making the gulf between the company and its angry passengers even wider.
According to the News Shopper, the company’s performance is now to be investigated by the railway industry’s National Task Force, with Tory MPs in Kent and outer London feeling the heat from their constituents. If the company’s communication skills – both to passengers and to the media – were up to scratch, it wouldn’t be in half the mess it’s in now.
Meanwhile, if you’ve a bit of time, enterprising passenger Peter Mount has found Southeastern’s franchise agreement, should you be short of some hefty reading material.