1 The Trust is grateful to John Bailey for the comprehensive report he has produced and the commendable speed with which it was produced. The PLC response to it is welcomed, and we look forward to participating in discussions on how best to take forward the ideas put forward by John Bailey on structural change.
2 We are grateful for his kind comments on the Trust in para. 4.2 which, he says, “seems to have a well-defined sense of its public benefit role as enshrined in its Articles. Its focus on its core educational purpose is clear and its attitude to the PLC is collaborative without being subservient.”
3 We are grateful for the clarity given by John Bailey’s advice on fundraising (para 4.5), where he highlights the confusion he sees. We have to take this seriously but think the proposition is relatively straightforward – the PLC needs money to survive the current crisis, but that cannot be simply be provided by the charities and it has to raise that separately. The charities can, however, raise funds for projects that are consistent with their objects and will support the railway through such things as track renewal, particularly where heritage components are being used, or where heritage rolling stock is being restored. We will need to work hard to develop messages that make this clear and overcome the confusion that John experienced.
4 Para 4.9 highlights a key issue of the railway’s raison d’être, and the Trust is clear that the railway is principally a part of the Somerset Tourism market, and that has to be the basis of its future survival. It is not primarily a public transport provider for the local community, nor could it be without government support, in common with local lines on the national network. However, the railway does bring major community benefits, principally in bringing tourists to the area and also in the engagement with local schools and family groups which the Trust has developed and continues through its project which it jointly funds with NLHF. It also provides worthwhile and satisfying activities for the volunteer workforce with significant benefits to the wellbeing and health of all those involved, as well as to visitors. This is an area where the support charities can offer real benefits, which cannot and should not be the responsibility of the PLC.
5 In recognising the potential advantages of the structural options offered by John Bailey we agree that that any new charity should set the policy direction and not operate the railway (para 5.2). We can also see the advantages in creating a new subsidiary operating company under this model.
6 We note that a new structure such as the options set out in the paper would require not only the support of the PLC (para 5.9), but that implementation would be for the PLC to undertake. We believe it would help if they had the support of the principal charities and organisations on the railway, but we recognise the right of the PLC to determine the nature and timing of any changes.
The Trust’s View
7 The view of our Trustees is that we can best meet our objects and support the railway by remaining as a small independent support charity focussed on our current objects around education and heritage (schools’ engagement and museums) and around historic carriage restoration. Clearly, we need to keep this under review in the light of the developing structure and the views of our members who provide the financial support, but that is our current view.
8 We agree that changes on this scale are not going to happen overnight (para 6.1), and in our view they will take some time to achieve, not least because of the need to earn the support of our volunteers and staff.
9 More than that, we believe that the priority this year has to be the survival of the railway and recovery from the Coronavirus crisis. Nevertheless, the Trust would want to play its part in contributing to any review of the organisation and will work closely with the current PLC and the Association to take this forward.
10 It would be reasonable to start planning this year, with an assessment of the benefit and drawbacks of the options proposed (para 5.9) and a start on consultation with shareholders.
11 We endorse the recommendation to re-establish the Partnership Development Group, and we are pleased that this met again yesterday.
27 June 2020
Note: The West Somerset Railway Plc’s response which includes the John Bailey report can be read on the official WSR website.