This was a brilliant column on how frankly silly CFO’s and wrongful ideas on austerity can screw up perfectly good pragmatic solutions. I quote:
what is not in dispute is that the second most important man in the British government travels second-class…..Then Gordon Brown, then prime minister, expelled generals and admirals from first-class compartments. After the election in May, when Mr Brown was deposed, the pace increased. The new regime imposed the same ban on civil servants……
Somewhere along the route from Liberty Hall to Austerity Towers, one passes the dividing line between common prudence and blithering idiocy, and it seems to me that the British government has now crossed it……..
The fastest journey from London to Sheffield takes more than two hours. Second-class compartments on British trains are cramped, generally noisy, usually crowded and sometimes standing-room only. It is difficult to use a laptop or, unless you have the temperament of a Buddhist monk, switch off and nap. The exception to this are the “quiet carriages”, which are always noisy, acting, as they do, as a magnet for large families with small children, serial telephoners, chatterboxes and officials from the Welsh Environment Agency giving hour-long lectures to their colleagues (I am not making this up).
Mr Clegg is paid a modest £137,000 a year. Say he travels to his constituency every fortnight. That means he would be spending not far off 5 per cent of his working time on these trains. If he can’t work in those hours he is not saving the taxpayer money…..
This is by no means just a British phenomenon, nor confined to railways. The fashion for hair-shirt travel may be traced back to the dotcom boom of the 1990s when the bosses of then-new companies such as Microsoft and Cisco helped to establish their image by conspicuously travelling in the back of planes themselves and expecting employees to follow suit.
This was a minor inconvenience to Bill Gates (who nonetheless travelled business class to Europe), at least until he got his own plane, and to senior executives who were expected to pay for their own upgrades.
It also roughly coincided with three other developments. First, the income of such executives exploded, so paying the extra became a minor detail. Second came the discovery of the pack-’em-in principle. It is now largely forgotten just how roomy the original 1970s jumbo jets were. Then airlines realised that no matter how ghastly they made the experience of travel, passengers were too price-obsessed and (appropriately enough for cattle class) too cowed to rebel. The third trend was the rise of the corporate CFO, trained to know the price of everything and the value of nothing, who found travel costs the easiest item of all to cut.
I used to have this stupidity all the time due to corporate travel policies whenever I would be working outside a bank. They would force people to travel in cattle class for long distances (at one stage, all flights below 10 hours). So what happens? I would be basically be unusable for 2 days for one flight. The result being that they would end up paying more for hotels, the wasted time, the catchup time etc. etc. And when the company is being stupid like this, why would they expect me to fly on a weekend? I wouldnt, so they would lose out on even more business time, week days would just be 1-2 days out of 5. This was when I was flying around the world on a very regular basis. Anyway, I agree, stupidity is not restricted to corporates but also to politics.