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BARBER'S RESPONSE TO SOUTHERN APOLOGY

22 November 2016

Albion's CEO has responded to an apology from Southern.


After Friday night's rail chaos, the club received an emailed apology from Southern Rail's Passenger Services Director Angie Doll. Chief executive Paul Barber has responded as follows, on behalf of the club and its fans who were affected. The club's response has also been circulated to local MPs and national government.

Dear Angie,

Thank you for your email earlier today.

In response, please let me start by saying I do not have any experience of running a train company. Neither am I a politician overseeing a region’s or a nation’s transport infrastructure. Furthermore, I am neither privy to the finer points of your operating agreement with Government nor indeed your ongoing dispute with the RMT. I fully appreciate that these are complex matters.

Furthermore, we have been very patient over many months. We haven’t taken sides in your dispute with the RMT. And, until today, despite damage to our business and to our matchday operations, already running to hundreds of thousands of pounds in additional cost and lost revenue, we have largely kept our counsel on the issues we have faced.

However, I do consider it to be a basic courtesy and a responsibility for the senior management of any organisation to contact a major customer when the short-term or ongoing supply of a critical service to them is interrupted, limited or, in the case of Friday evening, non existent.

So, quite frankly, given the issues we have faced over such a long period, I am absolutely astonished that this is the first time you have contacted me directly. I am even more astounded that your chief executive still hasn’t once bothered to call, email, or write to me – or to any of my colleagues - despite many, many months of poor service culminating in Friday evening’s shocking events.

It also worries me greatly that your organisation only now seems to have grasped quite how serious Friday evening's events actually were - and indeed could have been. What happened not only massively inconvenienced and caused great stress for many thousands of our fans, and those of Aston Villa, more importantly, it also seriously endangered their safety. The safety of our supporters - many of whom attended Friday’s match with children, elderly or infirm relatives and friends - is paramount to us and it is this issue that concerns me most of all. And today, with my patience finally failing me, we have outlined those serious concerns, and the flaws in your company’s handling of Friday’s situation, to the media, to local MPs and also, through them and directly, to Government.

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I am very pleased to hear that you will be conducting a full investigation into Friday night’s events. I look forward to hearing the outcome. My sense is that what has been reported thus far is a long way from what actually happened and, if it wasn’t for the swift actions of our staff, I can assure you that the outcome could well have been a whole lot worse, in many respects, for all concerned.

I am also encouraged to hear you say that you wish to meet us and to look at how we can work together better going forward. I know that this will be welcome news for our supporters, who have lost so much faith in your services in recent months, and for our operations staff who, along with our other transport partners, continue to bear the brunt of so many issues with rail services.

Finally, as a general point, I do not accept that making entirely innocent fare-paying customers - many of whom have little or no other choice as to how they get to and from work or, in our case, to and from football matches - the victims of a long-running dispute is justifiable in any circumstances.

It’s 1970s industrial relations and it's as embarrassing to witness, as it is disruptive and damaging to people’s lives. Southern, the RMT, and Government appear equally responsible for the poor service we have received over so many months, for the failure to resolve differences, for a lack of foresight as to the impact this dispute is having on our city and the businesses within it, and for the lack accountability to many tens of thousands of customers, including this football club.

Thank you, once again, for writing to me. I look forward to hearing the outcome of your investigation and to meeting soon.

Yours sincerely,
Paul Barber

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