The National Express conundrum

National Express is in far deeper trouble with its East Coast franchise than even I thought. Sources within the industry suggest that as much as 30 per cent of its first class business has disappeared and since the company will have to fork out £50m in premium payments in the year starting in April, compared with receiving a small subsidy this year, it is difficult to see how it can survive in its present form.

Moreover, nearly 20 per cent of their shares are held by the Spanish Cosmen family who are tipped to mount a takeover bid. If this happens, clearly they would not be interested in retaining the loss making franchises and would be prepared to sacrifice the other two – the poor performing East Anglia and probably the profitable C2C – to get themselves out of the rail business. And presumably the first person to be shown the exit door will be one Richard Bowker who has a rather accident prone career, having seen one organisation, the Strategic Rail Authority, abolished under him and another, Building Schools for the Future get massively behind in its capital programme.

Incidentally, watch the Office for Rail Regulation’s figures due out on Wednesday.They will show that the number of passenges travelling on season ticket fell in the third quarter of this year by just under one per cent compared with last year, a prelude, I suspect to much bigger falls this time. The chickens are coming home to roost for the franchises and it is ministers who will have to cope with the fall out..

If National Express goes to the government, it will not get more money but it may be allowed to go over to a management contract. But if that happens, there will be queue at the door for similar arrangements from the other franchisees. That will mean the effective collapse of the franchising system. Clearly new franchises will no longer be able to be let on the basis of private companies taking the revenue risk, which negates much of the point of the whole system. As I have written several times already, 2009 is going to be the most eventful year in the rail industry since privatisation.

  • TimD

    As a regular traveller on the YRK-KGX route, that fall in 1st class traffic seems understated if anything. There’s also been a clear attempt on NXEC’s part to claw back revenues from the unregulated fares – these have jumped by around 40% since Christmas, and availability is far more constrained than it was a few months ago. Which is a great shame, as the service and rolling stock are far preferable to the cattle trucks that Cross Country laughingly call trains…

    Not that this should be any surprise, of course – quite why NX would make any more of a success of this route than GNER is a mystery to me, although presumably not to those with the crystal balls at the DfT.

  • Chris Sharp

    Am I the only person who has noticed the Franchise Ruse.

    You bid for an Inter-city Franchise and promise the Government Billions, but all of it many years down the line. You run it for a couple of years and hand over next to no dosh, but trouser lots, and then you come up with an excuse not to pay up the Billions.

    Virgin did this on the west coast (and cross country?). GNER learnt from Virgin and basically got a 3 year extension for free. Now National Express have played the same hand.

  • Chris Sharp

    While I’m on…

    If National Express hand back the keys to C2C, NXEA and NXEC and the DfT run them as one organisation then can I vote for the name “British Rail Eastern Region”.

  • The Thin Controller

    Another prospect is that DfT may allow NX to cut its service levels (nos of trains, route coverage) in order to preserve the money coming in. Parts of the franchise as presently constituted don’t pay their own way, and I’ve been told there are operational reasons why NX would like not to have to run them anyway.

    The other problem is that being a premium franchise, NX’s payments have been used to prop up the finances of the rest of the system. What happens when those premia payments are not there?

  • Allan Hedley

    As i’ve said in many postings before, this is the ideal opportunity to get nationlisation of the passenger system back into a BR style business operation. Lets get this British Railway system run properly again for gods sake.

  • RapidAssistant

    Was on a Scotland-London NXEC return trip this last few days, interesting to see how much things have. They’ve been doing this ‘go anywhere for £5’ promotion this last month or two, and sure, it had the requisite effect of making both trains between Aberdeen-London fully booked (felt sorry for anyone who had paid full whack and had to stand in the vestibule for much of the journey), but I couldn’t help but think of the old business adage that “you can sell £10 notes for a fiver all day long” – and there’s my point – despite the fact I love taking advantage of said offers you can’t help but think what does this do for the company’s bottom line. Part of me would rather see less of these crazy deals (which are becoming a complete lottery these days when you want to find one for the time you want to travel) in return for more rationally priced full fare tickets.

    A lot of the old NXEC bugbears were present and correct – the catering trolley was broken and poorly stocked, the buffet car ran out of sandwiches and some poor girl got thumped to the tune of £140 for a new ticket as the guard refused to honour her original fare. Ah – happy days!

  • Paul O

    I think the best policy is not to get too upset about NX or the whole franchising system, even though its a shabby, tawdry and criminal mess with an outcome that looks nothing like what was intended because theres nothing we can really do at this time except ride it out.

    It is possible to get many hours of pleasure by reading old interviews in back issues of Rail or Rail Professional that contain interviews with the likes of Richard Bowker or Derek Franks and then try to match up their words with the reality of today. If I was a transport journalist I would be thumbing through a lot of back copy at the moment and getting ready to push it down their throats, not that it will make any difference, if the NX train derails both of them will walk away with a good severance package and as we all know It won’t be the first time.

    Essentially there are two National Express rail operations. One that Bowker & Franks think they are running and one that their staff are working for and passengers ( sorry – Customers ) are travelling on.

    Financially its a great time to be in senior railway mangement, why would you want to return to British Rail with a salary one fith or less of what your coining in now even if your railway is in trouble? My own experience is that a sizeable proportion of Railway Managers ( though not all ) were in it for themselves and probably still are, thats human nature and something that for once is not unique to the railways. You wont hear many senior managers shouting hard for BR Mk2 until they’ve had as much as they can from the till and its time for the tax payer to pick up the pieces one more time.

    Chris Sharp #2. Best entry on this thread so far, short, sweet and right to the point.

    Paul O

  • Paul O

    Sorry everyone thats David Franks, not Derek btw.

  • Amir

    Go back to real railway companies such as the big four. BR was split into five regions so that should have been the real railway companies. I.E LNER (London & North Eastern Railway) LNWR (London & North Western Railway) GWR (Great Weastern Railway) SR (Southern Railway) and Scottish Railway’s. No Franchises no gimmicks and stupid names like c2c or National Express East Coast. Just proper listed railway companies!

    Any profits they make 30% is taxed to go back into the subsidy pool simple. In recessions the governments bear the brunt. In boom times the government takes 30% to put away for investment.

  • RapidAssistant

    It’s easy to say just renationalise and that is what the public want, that’s what most people want but had this recession kicked in at the beginning of a parliamentary term, rather than towards the end Labour could have done something about it. Trouble is, we are witnessing a government going through its death throes at the moment and even if Railway Armageddon happens in the next few months, expect messrs. Brown & Co to put a sticking plaster on the problem (change the franchsies to management contracts for example, inject a few more ££s to keep them afloat etc.).

    Then they will leave the incoming Tory government to sort it out. Except they won’t – they will keep on feeding the monster they created – I think they have made it clear that they will keep the existing system with a few minor modifications. Paul O – I think British Rail Mark 2 is a long way off.

  • Allan Hedley

    if NX goes up the spout (sorry, when NX goes up the spout), surely this would be the ideal time for the Unions and staff to start and fight the government hard to end this franchise money eating, profit creaming fiasco and create a BR Mk2 operation.

    Lets get “People Power” behind us and MAKE the government put an end to this current railway structure.

  • Amir

    We don’t want BR Mk 2. Closed railway lines, job loses, Driver Only and cuts in service were all introduced under British Rail. Do not be mis-lead just look at the royal mail is this company any better under government ownership. It’s the government that has run it down and thats exactly what they would do if they nationalise. Cut subsidy in half and jobs and services would go.

    Its either got to be proper private companies such as the big four well i’d have five with a tax on profits to go into the subsidy pool so in the boom times they pay and in recession the government bears the brunt or a not for profit railway trust independent of government and DfT owned by season ticket holders. This government couldn’t run a bath if you gave them instructions. I do not want the DfT dictating these things but actually they already do and thats why its in such a mess in the first place because of government meddling. The DfT are no better at running anything than a private company. End of

  • RapidAssistant

    I don’t think anyone is suggesting that we should go back to a complete re-creation of British Rail as it was.

    But my personal belief is that the regulated services which are directly in the public interest should be nationalised and run by a new Operations organisation based within Network Rail. Whether or not the new combined organisation remains as a not-for-profit trust as it is now, or a full blown state corporation like BR is another matter. If nationalisation was to happen under the Tories (highly unlikely, I know) I think it would be the former scenario.

    Most importantly it should be run by a separate executive agency from the Departmeht of Transport by experienced railway managers (i.e. the “Fat Controllers” we keep talking about”) – effectively the old British Railways Board.

    However the “best bits” of privatisation should be kept – for instance Open Access which would do the job of keeping the regulated services on their toes.

    Freight is very much a win-win for both sides as it is a profitable business – which still generates an income for Network Rail via track access charges, so it could therefore remain in private hands.

  • The Thin Controller

    That’s the point – BR was never a ‘single business’. Freight was very profitable; long-distance was profitable, depending on the accounting; the south-east at least least paid its bills; and the losses were nearly all clocked up in the provincial/rural sector. Or, to put it another way, the losses on the passenger side were made on everything that wasn’t in London or at least connected to it. *That* was the conundrum that privatisation ignored, but not even Thatcher would have abandoned this part of the railway system

  • Christian

    I think, Rapid, you encapsulate my position. Having BR type organisation would do three things: attract expert railway managers who would see it as a career, remove it from DfT control and ensure that the railways were run as an integrated whole. Open Access is a thorny issue – it is not all win-win, as demonstrated by the contortions which ORR has to go through before deciding whether to accept or reject an application.

  • Allan Hedley

    So Can Mystic Wolmar see the government giving in to any franchisees by renegiotiating their agreements? or will the government stand by their word and say sorry we will have the keys please, thankyou, close the door on the way out!

    Its plain to see whats needed, the passenger system taken back and ran by a sort of BR board with experienced, talented and dedicated railwaymen in charge.

  • Amir

    “experienced, talented and dedicated railwaymen in charge”

    was also they key under the previous private companies. Would anyone dare to suggest that Isambad Kingdom Brunel was not experienced because GWR was on the london stock exchange i think not.

    The problem is no one knows whats happening on the railways and companies keep changing every two years.

    So ok lets say franchises go back to the goevnment then what. Of course its going to work perfectly cause the govenment runs it now. What utter tosh

    Like i said you need proper railway companies like the big four with a strong regulator or a BBC type organisation split into the big four independent of government. Simply letting the DfT run a franchise is folly as they already do anyway. It’s government meddling that has messed up this network in the first place not private companies.

    Anyone that has a year of a franchse left simply wants the highest fares with the least investment becuase thats a nature of a franchise.

    Even BT was never franchised!

  • RapidAssistant

    All I’ll say Amir is we had “experienced, talented and dedicated railwaymen” in charge of tthe Big Four and they still went bust thus resulting in the creation of British Rail.

    There are two fundamentals here:

    – Railways don’t make a profit. They can’t be made into a going concern, and in Britain polticians have repeatedly failed to understand that railways are a public service that bring wider social benefits – not a business. To think they are is the biggest fallacy of all. Such thinking produced the Beeching Axe and the 1990s privatisation and look at the awful damage both have done.

    – Railways are indeed better run by experienced managers – not politicians using them as a political football, or as Christian says – “civil servants playing at trains”.

    Until someone grasps these two fundamentals – nothing will change.

  • Chris Sharp

    The reason why the “Franchise Ruse” works is the subsidy/premium profile. These profiles are always good for the private sector at the start and good for the government at the end. When things get tricky for the private sector then renegotiation takes place for the period when it was supposed to be good for the government. This system keeps the risk in the public purse, not the private sector.

    A better way would be to scrap the profile an keep subsidy/payments flat throughout the duration of the contract. National Express would still pay £1.2 Billion over ten years for East Coast, but it would be £120 million a year, every year. They would have to go to the banks to finance the first few years but they would also reap allow the rewards as their business model delivered. This would genuinely transfer the risk to the private sector because they would be the ones saddled with debt if things went wrong.

  • Chris Packham

    This from today’s Guardian: ‘Richard Branson, the co-owner of Virgin Trains, has warned that the government must not do “deals behind closed doors” with National Express’. This outright cheek and pots/kettles is almost up there with the behaviour of bank executives. How many deals has he done over Cross Country and West Coast?

  • Amir

    Rapidassistant I’m afraid to say most of those railway companies were profitable it was WWII that made them go bust. They didn’t just run passenger traffic they ran frieight and owned all the big hotels. Sold off by British Rail. They took rent from stations (shops) so this is how they made money.

    WWII knackered them so yes they would have gone bust.

    But the government should have done recapitalisation like with the bnaks and taken big stakes in the companies in return for money rather than spending wat is billions in todays money nationalising. If Japan can have privatisation and still run a profitable and on-time service then it can be done here.

    I’m not against BR but it’s just ppl seem to look back as if it were all perfect and BR wasn’t. Like u said even when its nationalised they still see it as a business. Just look at the Royal Mail mate. exactly what you said is happening. They don’t see it as a service and they’ve run it down axed thousands of branches. I/e beeching. Now they’re tryin to sell it. And these public/private partnerships are worse than nationalisation and worse than full privatisation. As you get private sector leeches and government meddling. Any public private partnerships have virtually gone bust.

    However BT can’t just run down its business because it is a functioning company. Even though look at the banks. I think what would help would just be less companies and less government interference and something which is more accountable. Whatever it is government won’t be able to achieve it until they recognise its a public service. However it does not need to be nationalised to be a public service. Cabbies are public services and are privately owned. But they are recognised to be a public service.

  • The Thin Controller

    The Royal Mail is a network business which in the past saw the profitable parts of the system support the unprofitable parts. But now the profitable areas face significant competition, and – fatal for a network industry – volumes are declining. But loss-making areas cannot be abandoned, as they would be in any private sector business, because of their social benefits and ‘public service’ requirements.

    The financial challenges of the railway network are being seen in other areas. Those thinking of a part-privatisation of the Royal Mail – you have been warned!

  • Anoop

    Over the past century the most damaging events for Britain’s railways were those that resulted in experienced personnel leaving the railway:

    1. Privatisation in the 1990s – the network was split up into an unworkable fragmented mess, experienced BR managers quit or retired (and some subsequently because external consultants to the privatised railway). There have been numerous examples of wastage and mismanagement since privatisation e.g. Stagecoach South West Trains gave many drivers early retirement and then did not have enough to drive the trains, Railtrack outsourced track maintenance to companies which were not competent to do it, there were no new trains ordered for several years leading to train manufacturers going bankrupt or losing their expertise, train leasing companies made huge profits on their monopoly business at the passengers’ expense etc.

    2. Nationalisation in the 1950s – experienced managers of the private companies did not like the enforced reorganisation and many of them quit, leaving the new British Rail with a naive and inexperienced team. This led to many mistakes early on, e.g. building new obsolete steam locomotives and scrapping them a few years later, building too many different types of incompatible and unreliable diesel locomotives, building ‘cheap’ pacer units which are expensive to maintain and damage the track etc.

    The times when Britain’s railways functioned at their best were:

    1. The ‘Big Four’ pre nationalisation – each of the companies were responsible for track maintenance as well as running the trains, like Japan’s railway companies. Over many years they had acquired expertise in running the railway economically and reliably.

    2. British Rail 1980s-1990s – a number of projects were completed at modest cost, including the East Coast electrification, ‘total route modernisation’ of the Chiltern Line, introduction of Intercity 125 and Thameslink services. At this time government subsidy and enthusiasm was minimal, so the railway was not able to develop its full potential.

    In conclusion, railways can be run successfully by private or public companies, as long as they are ‘vertically integrated’ (i.e. the same organisation looks after the trains and tracks), the structure is stable without frequent reorganisation, and the companies are large enough to achieve economies of scale. The strength of the railway lies in the knowledge and experience of its engineers, managers and other workers. A sudden loss of part of the workforce can lead to errors and inefficiency or even disasters.


    You sound like you are all a little more expert on transport issues than I am however I feel obliged to point out my experience as a regular Nat Express passenger on E.Anglia/Stansted Airport service to London. I could go on as we all could about the endless service failures, the wholly insulting and coercive attitude of the company towards its customers, the dishonesty in their explanations of delays, their wholly unprofessional attitude and their unfitness to run a train service. However tonight I was fined by them, on the eve of a strike that will leave me cut off from London in a form that I regard as simple robbery. The last time I was in the UK, I thankfully spend large periods out of it, I boarded a train in Tottenham Hale and a catering assistant told me that travelling in 1st class on a 2nd class ticket is okay if there is no seat free in 2nd class. I asked him as he was the only member of staff available and there were no signs to clarify the situation. For that reason tonight I did precisely that after leaning on a luggage rack a while, there being no seats available in 2nd and no warning notices. Result a ticket inspector got on and rather than caution me not to do so again, fined me £20 and threatened me with calling the police if I failed to cooperate. I am not a criminal, my offence was unwitting, but I did not receive one ounce of understanding or pity from the little Hitler in charge of ticket inspection. Do Nat Express treat the tourists coming from the airport this way as well and expect them to know about rail byelaws and the like without posting any kind of obvious warning on the relevant carriage door? This for me has been the last straw. I have no ideological drum to bang but I would like to see the railstrike continue until the government is forced to take the franchise away from a company unfit to run our trains, that abuses and coerces it’s customers in every conceivable way and presents the most dismal image of the soon to be Olympic UK to foreign visitors. Entirely shameful and I can only be glad that I don’t have to spend as much time in UK as most of the rest of you. You have my support in any efforts you make to unseat the private rail companies.


    Incidentally, can somebody explain to me how on earth National Express that runs the supposedly competitive alternative of the coach service from Stansted Airport to London was also awarded the rail franchise? As an uninitiated simple passenger I cannot understand how the Monopolies and Mergers people didn’t reject their bid from the outset. Wasn’t the idea of privatisation to improve the service by competition between rival companies? And this is how it ends, National Express running trains and coaches on the same route… How can I regard all involved as anything else than liars and crooks?

  • Dan


    I can understand your frustration. The rules are clear, but given you were “given permission” by the only member of staff available (a catering crew member) I think you should appeal the penalty fare that you have got – to Nat Express East Anglia HQ, in writing. They may well at least award you vouchers as that is easier than a prolonged correspondence, but if they don’t you should refer the matter to the watchdog (Passenger Focus). Do this ASAP.

    My tips – appeal to Nat Express East Anglia in writing 1st – keep copies of all letters, notices you were issued with etc, tone down the (justifiable) sense of rage in your post, stick to the facts and follow my advice below.

    See (train companies and maps pages) for the correct contact addresses (be sure to send to Nat Express EAST ANGLIA). See:

    for how to contact them (if Nat Exp EA turn you down simply go straight to Passenger Focus and let them broker a solution for you).

    IMHO you acted reasonably in the circumstances, but the Conditions of Carriage (again available to read from and worth a look over by any regular rail user) are clear and state that you can only occupy 1st class with a Std Class ticket with the permission of the train manager. Interesting, as the trains you were on are, I think, driver only operated and thus do not have a train manager for you to ask! (You’d have had to ask the permission of the travelling ticket inspector (TTI) when you saw them)!

    The catering operative would most likely have been a subcontractor, with no knowledge of the regs, and certainly no authority to permit you to use 1st class – but that is Nat Express fault – if they allow them the contract to supply catering on their route, they should not permit them to advise passengers in such matters – that is the key argument you should make in your appeal against the penalty (or you should send the bill to the catering contractor!).

    As a customer you have no interest in who runs the catering – that person was simply the only member of on board crew available for you to ask, and how are you to know they would give you erroneous information.

    You may also find the tips on this website regarding appealing penalty fares of use to you (although I’m not sure if they still offer the commission based service they highlight to get you off the appeal – I’d use the method I set out myself). See their section of ‘Successes’

    Nat Express are facing severe financial issues and no doubt they are keen to find every way possible to extract extra money from passengers. Make them earn it by at least responding to your quite legitimate frustration.

    I do sincerely hope you will follow my advice now I have taken the trouble to post it – good luck!

    The matter of why they are also operating coach routes on the same route is another story that I’m not going to go into now.

    I hope the above is of help to you. Don’t let them get away with it!

    PS – as it happens – if I’d been advised to use 1st by any member of on train staff, as you were – I’d have refused to pay the penalty and actively asked the TTI to call the police if he wished (but I’d have moved back out to Std class on their request). I’d have given them my name and address backed up by ID, but refused to impart any cash then and there!

  • David,

    MPs don’t represent the people, and civil servants certainly don’t. MPs represent their *party* over and above all else. Civil servants represent their pay-packet. Neither have any pressing reason or incentives to ensure the public are treated as anything other than a source of cash.

    Remember, these are the same people who like to label taxpayers as “customers”. Last time I checked, we were supposed to be their *bosses*!

    The present culture of perceiving taxpayers as customers is the exact opposite of what it should be. If anything, every MP is The People’s Personal Assistant.

    MPs are in it for the gravy train and the post-government consultancy / lecture tour career now. Expecting them to think in anything other than the short-term is pointless. Expecting them not to be nice to major corporations who will then offer them big, fat, consultancy or chairmanship positions once their MP career is done with is also pointless.

    The system is fundamentally broken and way beyond its Use By date. Our government needs to go the way of the 4-CIG. Massive, radical reform is needed before anything reasonably constructive can done. Unfortunately, only the LibDems seem to be considering even minor reform and that’s nowhere near enough.

  • Dan

    Sean – you are entitled to your opinion, but actually I think you are being utterly unfair.

    As a civil serveant I spend much of my time giving advice and assistance to people for purposes unrelated to my core role, and enjoy doing so, I have no problem with this, would never think of finding any way to charge, and try to do it to a higher level of quality than I ever expect to get when I go to private sector operations (which are often so incompetent as the example above illustrates where a catering company advises a passenger of a course of action that is in breach of the conditions of his ticket opening him to a hefty fine as a consequence). I’m never going to get a bonus (as we don’t get them) and whilst my pay is steady it is not spectacular, nor ever will be.

    You have a cycnical view of politicians – you are entitled to that view – but if you could do it better feel free to stand for election yourself and show how it can be done better – lots of ‘independents’ are getting elected to local councils these days, so you don’t have to represent a party if you don’t want to – and it costs nothing to stand in a local election.

    I’m just left rather amused that you think MPs are in for the “gravy train”, but you imply that somehow the LibDems are exempt from this. You’ve clearly not studied the Lib Dems in power locally – where I would argue they are not especially radical either!

    I do think that people need to appreciate that if you want public money (as transport has to have) you have to engage with the democratic process, that means you have to deal with politicians, since they represent the people – at least in theory – who are paying this money. Like it or not that is the way it is. I suspect the processes that leave the traditonal parties with a hold on power is gradually breaking down – but we are not there yet, and other elected reps will replace them, who those who need subsidy will have to deal with. That is the problem with democracy – but it is the least worst system developed for governance IMHO.

    PS – the 4-CIG was out of date after nearly 40 years, but much more comfortable than it’s successor!

  • “I’m just left rather amused that you think MPs are in for the “gravy train”, but you imply that somehow the LibDems are exempt from this. You’ve clearly not studied the Lib Dems in power locally – where I would argue they are not especially radical either!”

    Er, at no point did I claim the LibDems were anything other than a typical political party. I merely pointed out that they’re the only group to have ever implied that they would make any kind of reform of the system.

    And “system” is the key word here. I’m not criticising individual MPs and civil servants. I’m criticising the systems they work with. My contention is that most of the systems are obsolete.

    “First Past The Post” has been demonstrably obsolete since the 1920s: it can only guarantee a truly democratic result when there are *only* two parties to vote for. If I were to stand as an Independent, the fact that our entire political system is geared around formal parties is, in itself, a huge barrier to going any further than local government. Independent MPs are merely a way to protest about local issues by advertising them to the country as a whole.

    If, by some quirk of chance, Independent MPs managed to form a majority, who would they elect as leader? Just because MP X, elected on a promise to save his local hospital, is an Independent, it doesn’t mean he shares the same broad opinions as I, or any other Independent. “Independent” is an anti-Party. It’s inherently confrontational, which is one of the biggest problems our system has. The House of Commons is little better than a school playground during most ‘debates’. There’s very little of constructive value in it. A better system would be one that encourages constructive co-operation and compromises, rather than degenerating into schoolboy taunts.

    The Italian system of PR gets a lot of stick, but I can’t help noticing that they’ve got a hell of a lot more infrastructure investment going on than we do—and they have two mountain ranges and three active volcanoes to deal with too. They’re still managing to get good deeds *done*, and that’s despite the slow process of dealing with corruption in the south of the country. (Hell, even Naples already has a Crossrail, light rail *and* a tube network!)

    Don’t let the distractions of the media fool you: Berlusconi has very little real power to interfere with the day-to-day running of his country; most of that power is vested in the regions themselves.

    Our governments have failed utterly to even get the most basic IT projects off the ground. They’ve merrily messed up our national infrastructure investment. They invent new laws where none are needed, adding unnecessary complication to the system.

    It’s no accident either: Most of the people with any power at all in this country are now either accountants or lawyers by training. How long will it be until ignorance of the law becomes a valid excuse? It is already impossible for the vast majority of laypeople to be fully cognisant of every legal quirk and tangle today. Yet successive governments have done little more than nail new laws onto old ones in the hope that they’ll somehow fix the problem du jour.

    Standing as an Independent MP would be like trying to fight a blazing factory fire by spitting on it. Being an MP would merely make me part of the problem.

    I’m not cynical. I’m just angry. The problems of our government systems are plain to any designer of interacting complex systems. I spent 20 years working in IT, including the games industry where interface design is used to hide the complexities of the underlying rules and other interacting systems. Donald A. Norman’s “The Design of Everyday Things” should be required reading in all schools, right up there with Shakespeare and Donne. Unlike the latter two examples, Norman’s writings are extremely relevant to today’s problems.

    If you’ve read this far, you really need to get out more!