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Feedback from 2011 AGM

Written on 14thJune 2011 by

At a packed and lively AGM yesterday, Go! Co-operative which has been trading as GOCO for some time now, officially changed its name to GOCO Limited. It retains the co-operative structure, but will now be able to use the brand name GOCO in all its operations – for example GOCO CAR – about to announce the launch of the first car club, in Swindon, later this month.

The AGM heard two excellent speakers. Chris Irwin, Chair, TravelWatch SouthWest, and Vice-Chair of the European Passengers' Federation was critical of the high cost of UK rail services, blaming Network Rail’s inability to provide infrastructure cost-effectively, the endemic contract and compensation culture and the general inertia of the UK rail industry as a whole. Chris urged the UK rail industry to take lessons from the Continent where rail costs and consequently passenger fares, are significantly lower.

The standing room only meeting also heard from Christian Wolmar, the UK's leading transport commentator, journalist and author of the recent report 'Cooperative Rail, a radical solution'. Christian described the recent McNulty report as a recipe for even more fragmentation and outlined what he saw as three opportunities for co-operatives in the UK rail industry, which would however require government sponsorship and support:

1. Network Rail – currently structured as a Company Limited by Guarantee – but lacking in accountability

2. Co-operative franchises or micro-franchises - Passenger rail operation lends itself well to a mutual or co-operative structure, as it is a high volume business with millions of users and a large workforce

3. Small operating companies running station shops or providing engineering services

Asked how the UK rail industry could more closely model itself along continental lines, Chris suggested greater flexibility was required – for example avoiding standardization across the industry under circumstances where it’s clearly wasteful. For example, more flexible bus services when demand is low and increased railway services when demand is higher.

Both contributors agreed that a major issue for the UK industry is that while the railways are seen as a commercial business and therefore expected to be profitable, roads are subsidized through taxation and rationed by traffic jam – so in the UK it’s ok to subsidise roads, but not railways!

Finally Christian mentioned he is climbing the three highest mountains in the UK, Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis in aid of the Railway Children charity, and welcomes sponsors at Virgin Money Giving: http://bit.ly/k4TI0C