Helen Martin: Taxpayer left to pick up bus tab

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ONE of the mysteries of business for most of us ordinary folk are the ­executive deals and ­contracts of employment negotiated for those at the top.

That especially applies to publicly owned businesses, be it bus companies, banks, or those that directly impact upon us, such as utilities.

We can gasp at the salaries of course, that’s understandable. But what few of us really know, is what these extraordinarily highly paid ­individuals are expected to do for such vast rewards.

What talents, for example, would we expect a chief executive to possess in order for him or her to do the job?

Vision is clearly a requirement, the ability to see where the business is going, where the opportunities lie and how to maximise revenue.

Courage is another. When the big decisions come, someone has to take the lead, regardless of how unpopular and unpleasant such decisions might be. Unlike politics, the business world is not a popularity contest.

But that’s where it gets tricky. Because the man or woman at the top of any organisation also has to be a leader. Their policies have to inspire people at all levels of the company. They need the ability to explain that all-important vision and get everyone on side including those who need to be won over, all marching to the same drum and singing from the same hymn sheet. Business is nothing if it’s not about team work. A company ­pulling itself apart in different directions will never succeed.

The board at Lothian Buses appears to be in meltdown over Chief Executive Ian Craig, who earns more than the Prime Minister. Whatever is ­happening in the lower rungs of the buses, at least three of his fellow directors have offered to waive their bonuses just to help pay his half-a- million-pound severance package in order to get rid of him, and one has resigned.

He is accused of being intimidating and petulant when challenged and having lost the trust and confidence of the board.

Lothian Buses has long been an excellent service. My 25-year-old son has turned down driving lessons because as he points out: “I live in Edinburgh. I can get the bus.” It wasn’t a broken company that needed to be mended when Mr Craig joined, but a respected, efficient operation that faced the rather obvious ­challenge of integrating with trams, trains and even to a certain extent, other bus companies.

The role of a chief executive is not just to recognise that – a five-year-old could do so – but to actually make it happen, and for that the other directors and staff need to be working alongside him.

For whatever reason, it is clear Mr Craig either can’t or won’t display the crucial talent, leadership, persuasion and people skills we would all expect him to possess and which should surely be a key task in the role.

For many ordinary people in ordinary jobs, that would be enough to earn them their jotters one way or another, not to mention a black mark against the person who recruited them. For a chief executive of a publicly owned bus company, that means a pay-off of £500,000.

But here’s the thing. If anyone is to blame it’s not Ian Craig. It’s the ­calibre of the recruitment process used by the Council and the foolish way they tried to ape private sector, “golden handcuffs”, copper-bottomed, executive contracts they couldn’t afford, with our money. Now they’re the ones whose hands are tied. As always, we will pay for it.

Go with flow on loo and parking

THIS is a time for innovation and creativity when it comes to managing swingeing cuts to the city budget.

Twenty public loos in areas outside the city centre are going to be closed in a bid to save £600,000 over the next two years, so the idea of a “community toilet scheme” where high street businesses let folk use their facilities is perfectly reasonable – providing these businesses get something in return.

It’s true, there’s no overall saving if the money just goes straight out of the coffers again. But generosity doesn’t just flow one way. With local high streets struggling to survive, the Mary Portas study recommendations, now being taken on by some English councils, revealed that free parking was essential to a healthy high street and led to greater council income, not less.

Somewhere to legally take a leak and somewhere to park while you do so is the least civilised people expect.

State guardian scheme idiotic

THAT most idiotic piece of Scottish legislation, the state guardian scheme which, in some cases, gives “named persons” more rights to information about children than the parents, is going to be the undoing of the Scottish Government.

We can just about cope with police powers being wider and harsher in Scotland, even if we drew the line at officers routinely carrying weapons. But taking over our children is a step too close to Communist China. One example is that if a teacher discovers a child has underage sex, they are instructed to tell the named person – not the parent.

It would be easy for the SNP to become complacent amid soaring membership and to forget for a moment that the tide comes in . . . and then goes out again.