Ex-Rail regulator rails at civil servants

Under the Freedom of Information Act the valedictory dispatch (farewell speech/letter) has been revealed of Tom Winsor, the Rail Regulator, who departed his post in 2004. This is Mr Winsor's candid advice to his successor as Regulator (at www.rail-reg.gov.uk/upload/pdf/foi_67.pdf ). It describes political cowardice, short-termism and deceit, and “the courtier mentality of some civil servants”.

“It should not be underestimated,” writes Mr Winsor, “just how effective the constant repetition of unjustified criticism and imaginary facts can be in shaping political and public opinion... Politicians will talk about decades of underinvestment and putting right the mistakes of the past, but in general — and with some honourable exceptions — they are simply not programmed to make decisions which put the long-term interests of the industry and the public ahead of the short-term political imperatives of the moment. If the fire-alarm is ringing, the tendency is often to break the bell and stop the noise; not to put out the fire.”

Matthew Parris writes in The Times: "Someone should research and publish a book of public servants' valedictory dispatches. We shall not have them much longer. I understand they have now been abolished in the FCO. The beauty of the Freedom of Information Act is that we can chisel the old ones out of the files. The cost is that in consequence few will now dare write them. "

Gobble, gobble! Another turkey from Farmer Brown (The Times, 8 November 2007)