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Coucher bags £1 million estate

Sunday, January 31 2010

Keills Estate, a 567 acre estate on the west coast of mainland Argyll, near Lochgilphead. Photo Rettie & Co.

(Click to see the description of the property on the Rettie & Co website.)

Network Rail CEO, Iain Coucher who enjoys an annual salary of £613,000 has just bought himself three-quarters of the Keills estate, including a house, complete with boathouse, jetty and 173 acres of surrounding land, and two little islands. Estate agents Rettie and Co describe the house as follows.

The 3 bedroom Keillmore House with its own barn and boathouse set in over six acres of land also incorporates the historic Keills jetty and pier. A mooring is currently rented from the Crown Estate within Keills Port.  Subject to planning consent some of the outbuildings offer scope for residential conversion.

Now I have no problems with generously rewarding top management for a job well done, but I question whether Coucher’s work at Network Rail deserves a £1.24m per annum reward package. Massive inconvenience was caused to passengers by civil engineering work which over ran during the 2007/8 and 2008/9 winter holidays. ORR imposed a hefty fine on Network Rail, but were the senior management held responsible? Not a bit of it NR’s remuneration committee approved 6 figure bonuses for the company’s top bosses.

Today the Observer’s Nick Cohen summed up the situation as follows.

You are paying, of course, and getting very little in return. The nationalised British Rail, in its last year of operation in 1994, cost the taxpayer £950m. The private rail operators cost the taxpayers £5bn in 2008, £4bn of which went direct to Network Rail. All that money has produced a pathetic dividend.

We are the only the European country to allow a fragmented privatised rail network. Last year, state-run Spanish rail opened a high-speed line between Barcelona and Madrid. The two-and-a-half-hour journey costs £52 return. The European public sector is delivering prices and speeds which are beyond the dreams of British passengers. But I suspect Spanish railway managers are not buying country estates or hiring the attack-dog lawyers of the super-rich, but using public money to provide public services.

But that is not the only scandal which deserves to be aired in this ‘not-for-profit’ company. Nick’s incisive article is worth reading in full. It is high time that Rick Haythornthwaite, newly arrived Network Rail chairman, reviews as to whether Iain Coucher is delivering value-for money to Network Rail’s customers and stakeholders.

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