The Family ALBUM
Last week saw the majority of the larger Independent Bus Operators all come together for the annual ALBUM conference, this year hosted by Nottingham City Transport at the Belton Woods Hotel in Grantham.
One striking absentee was former ALBUM chairman Mark Howarth of Western Greyhound, who found himself having to deal with the aftermath of a devastating fire at his depot in Summercourt, near Newquay, where he lost 34 vehicles of various types. ALBUM’s current chairman, James Freeman MD of Reading Buses, acted as our daily news service bringing the conference up to date with details of the events as they unfolded and also making a plea for suitable buses on behalf of the guys at Western Greyhound. A number of buses were pledged in support and duly delivered down to Newquay, proving that this industry does have a fantastic family spirit that runs through it, and looks to support other operators in their times of need.
Highlights and Lowlights
The undoubted highlight of the conference was to sit and listen to the soft Scottish tones of Sir Brian Souter. As usual, Sir Brian, spoke with passion on his subject and threw in the expected anecdotes that somehow always link back to the subject he has been asked to speak on. His most telling remark surrounded the use of Twitter, Facebook and other social media, where he speculated that in 20 years we would all be looking back and thinking how stupid it was, that we even thought this was not a method of communication that was here to stay. Ignore it at your peril was the clear message.
For every highlight there is usually a corresponding lowlight to balance it all out. Unfortunately this year, the shadow Transport Minster, Yvonne Favargue, who had clearly received the wrong briefing paper before being despatched to talk to a room packed with independent bus operators. Her preference for a partly re-regulated, franchise type system was plainly evident, with frequent mentions of Quality Contracts and ‘The London Model’ being quoted. The ensuing questioning following her presentation was direct and challenging – with perhaps the most telling remark from the floor being delivered by the conference’s host Mark Fowles of Nottingham City Transport. He pointed out the massive funding gap between the rest of the country and London, claiming that Nottingham, if given the same funding regime per capita head as London, they could change their buses every 3 years and run everything for free. I apologise to Mark, if I’ve mis-quoted or mis-understood this remark, but if it’s true this is surely the most real manifestation of the London centric political approach, that is oft mentioned but never really proved within this on-going debate.
The conference was its usual success and seemed to have grown once more on previous years, with the trade suppliers being represented in force. It would be great to see more operators coming forward to join ALBUM, it is a really good forum and is not just an excuse for a good social event once a year! Engineering and MD committees share best practice frequently, and you only need to look to the example of the response to Western Greyhound’s problems to know that you are better in than out!