John McLellan: It’s a fare old mess

Ian Craig. Picture: Esme Allen
Ian Craig. Picture: Esme Allen
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It’s not often a successful head of a major public organisation is subjected to a campaign of vilification by the people he works for, but that’s the suspicion about what’s happening to city bus boss Ian Craig.

Not that journalists can complain when information is leaked about the behaviour of senior officials or how public money is being spent, but the relentless flow of negative stories about the Lothian Buses chief 
executive from inside sources is intriguing.

I will declare an interest and admit I know Ian Craig reasonably well, but it would be unusual for a former local paper editor not to know people in senior civic posts. He’s certainly big and ugly enough to fight his own battles, but at stake here is not just his reputation but the leadership of the service at a critical time.

The longest-standing charge against him is that of earning too much money, with his £270,000 pay last year regularly compared with the amount earned by David Cameron (£142,500) or Alex Salmond (£130,000) by the likes of Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale (£58,600). It’s undeniably a huge sum of money and if Craig set his own pay then directing anger at him would perhaps be understandable, but as his package is the responsibility of Transport for Edinburgh’s non-executive directors, chaired by Councillor Lesley Hinds and dominated by councillors, he is only guilty of taking home what others have agreed to pay.

In the court of public opinion, anyone earning more than the Prime Minister is usually regarded as vastly overpaid, especially when it involves public services, but as Lothian Buses is an arms-length company operating in a competitive market then competitive salaries are paid to the best performers.

In the case of Ian Craig, below, under his tenure since 2006 the company has continued to produce solid annual profits, up 7.8 per cent last year to put £3 million back into council coffers. If more services turned a similar coin then maybe the need for the drastic cutbacks we have been reading about recently wouldn’t be so severe.

Now he has the unenviable task of making a fist of integrating the tram line into the bus network while maintaining profitability, which needs a new approach to the business. As with any major upheaval, some will find dealing with change tougher than others and into that category might fit the three long-serving bus directors who raised a formal grievance against their boss for what was described as an “abrasive” management style and failing to consult them about key decisions.

Finance chief Norman Strachan, engineering boss Bill Devlin and operations director Bill Campbell felt they were being cut out of important discussions, but unfortunately for them – and others who might like Craig to pack his bags – an internal investigation headed by the bus board chair, lawyer Ann Faulds, cleared him of any wrongdoing.

Unusually, shortly after the decision was made, the TfE media relations team began to field calls from a range of news organisations, including a freelance agency, all armed with full details of what was supposed to be an internal procedure. It’s fair to conclude that someone decided that if the investigation wasn’t going to nail him then maybe adverse publicity would.

Having taken on their boss and lost, the Gang of Three’s positions are now untenable, but public sympathy will be limited for experienced businessmen who were paid not far short of £200,000 last year (more than you-know-who, remember) but had difficulty with a plain-speaking boss.

There are three possible scenarios:

1. They are poor souls who had difficulty with a single-minded boss and raising a grievance was the only way to get him to change his ways.

2. All three wanted out but weren’t prepared to quit without securing some sort of deal. They knew the complaint was unlikely to succeed, but would make continuing as before impossible and so force a compromise in which they would trouser a hefty whack to go away.

3. Emboldened by repeated 
briefings against their boss, they wrongly thought they could engineer his removal, while always having the insurance of number 2.

If another senior council source is correct, all three are set to walk off with a year’s salary, which sounds 
perfectly feasible. Now the council faces three choices of its own:

1. Reduce Craig’s deal to a more acceptable level, less than the council chief executive’s £160,000 for example (still more than you-know-who). Going by the Gang of Three’s salaries that would mean changing most if not all senior TfE staff conditions and invite a host of legal claims.

2. Get rid of him altogether and pay an awful lot of compensation. But having sent a signal to the industry that they can go back on agreed conditions, what calibre of applicant would be attracted?

3. Accept the situation, be thankful the company is doing well and stop creating instability in its own business.

Whatever happens in future, this sure ain’t no way to run a railroad.


Now East Renfrewshire MP Jim Murphy has finally committed to running for the Scottish Labour leadership, in all probability it leaves the other candidates, Lothians list MSPs Sarah Boyack and Neil Findlay, to scrap it out for the runner-up spot.

It would be no surprise if union favourite Findlay came second, which would put him in pole position to lead the party at Holyrood until Murphy can engineer his arrival. It would certainly make for a fiery First Minister’s Questions every Thursday, although Jackie Baillie didn’t do badly yesterday.

Wisely, their young Edinburgh colleague Kezia Dugdale stepped back, saying she was not a leader but a “sidekick”. She will now be interested in the deputy leadership since Anas Sarwar has stood down. Her time will come, but she might regret a phrase which begs the question, how would a “sidekick” lead Labour in the Scottish Parliament if she did become deputy and Murphy’s stand-in?

Which in turn raises the issue of how a stop-gap Holyrood leader operates if it’s not Murphy’s real sidekick, Eastwood MSP Ken Macintosh. His track record since losing the leadership race to Johann Lamont three years ago has been one of open defiance, so what kind of loyalty can he be relied upon to deliver if the Holyrood leader is not a fully signed-up member of Murphy’s Mob?

This week, the tensions behind the scenes were laid bare by veteran Glasgow MP Ian Davidson, never a man to disguise his feelings, who accused Murphy’s associates of staging a coup. From my time in Holyrood, there was rarely a conversation with senior Labour figures which did not turn to the kind of plotting to which Davidson referred and the finger pointed firmly at Jim Murphy.

So, too, was Murphy at the heart of bad blood between Team Lamont and Better Together, which it was felt became a front for Murphy’s ambitions and his “100 towns in 100 days” tour with his Irn-Bru crate regarded not as altruistic self-sacrifice but cynical self-promotion with an ulterior motive beyond saving the Union.

In echoes of some of the language of the Yes campaign, Lamont’s people felt Camp Murphy regarded them as “too stupid, too crap” to run the party and they will be snorting with derision at Murphy’s newly expressed desire to end internal divisions within the party.

That isn’t to say he’s not the best candidate for the job, just that he has bridge-building of Thomas Telford proportions to perform if he is to turn what has quickly become a bewildered party of despair into one of hope.

Under him, Labour will not try to become more left-wing than the SNP and rightly so, because the SNP is mastering the cunning trick of appearing ever more socialist while keeping its right-wing outriders either happy or quiet and therefore not ceding centre ground.

That’s not a luxury afforded to Labour, as Michael Foot’s disastrous leadership demonstrated in the 1980s, even if that’s what the unions likely to support Neil Findlay would like to see.

But it is one reason Labour needs to support the devolution of more than token tax-raising powers, otherwise the SNP’s inconsistencies will never be properly tested.

Nor can Labour ever credibly claim to be more Scottish than the SNP – as it was put to me this week, “We can’t out-Nat the Nats” – so it has to re-establish its own language and legitimacy across the broad spectrum of the electorate, something it managed most spectacularly in the early years of the Tony Blair leadership.

The fly in Murphy’s ointment is that of securing a seat at Holyrood. There has been blithe talk of him standing in a safe Labour constituency – probably at the same time as the general election in May – but is anyone confident such a seat exists in the wake of the Ipsos Mori survey for STV that suggests the party would be left with just four seats at Westminster next year?

He might find that Irn-Bru crate is needed again after all.

When is glass not glass? When it’s made into a dish or broken.

In the new recycling guide now being delivered across the city, that’s just one of the mad rules householders must follow to comply with the council’s new recycling regime, all to meet a Scottish Government target of recycling 70 per cent of household waste by 2025.

Under the new system, the blue boxes can take glass bottles and jars as before, but not glass dishes, broken glass or even glass panes. So are we supposed to fish out the pieces if a bottle gets broken in the box, as often happens??

Or what about old clothes? “Please put textiles in your textile bag or a plastic carrier bag and place it beside your blue box (no black bags)” says the guide. Why beside? Why no black bags?

Surely paper is straightforward? All kinds of paper can go into the green recycling bin (which used to be your ordinary bin) but not photographs. Of any sort?

Small electrical items can go in the blue box but not big ones. So does a four-slice toaster count as a small item, given micro-waves are banned? Not that the average householder throws many such things out in an average week, but you get the point.

The guide includes some handy “top tips”, the most interesting of which is “Bag your waste in compostable bags” but doesn’t explain how you know for sure what is or isn’t compostable.

And the answer to “What do I do if I need a bigger bin?” is to call the council and they’ll send someone round to tell you how to be a better recycler.

One question not included is “How many rules can the council dream up to make the ordinary living as complicated as possible?”

Some people find all this stuff immensely satisfying, but I’ll hazard a guess and say it’s the last thing needed by the majority of working people who get home tired and still have the kids’ tea, homework and school clothes to sort out.

Welcome to Edinburgh’s wonderful world of planet-saving.