BAA and others versus the Dragon of Parliament

Read through the minutes of the cross-party transport committee which has been investigating the future of airports operator BAA and something quickly becomes apparent: being grilled by the chairman, the formidable Gwyneth Dunwoody, isn’t much fun.In its own evidence the Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign suggested BAA was “appropriately terrified” of such an interrogation. And it’s probably not alone.

Dunwoody to the Civil Aviation Authority’s economic regulation director Harry Bush, on BAA’s receiving incentives to meet targets: “It’s just that some of us feel that if you are paid to do a job, it might be rather nice if you did it without being told that it is only if you get extra money that you will actually do what you are supposed to do.”

To the Air Transport Users’ Council’s softly-spoken chief Simon Evans:“Tell me, Mr Evans, do you ever have to shout at anybody?”Evans: “Fortunately not very often, no.”“Could you make an exception this afternoon and pretend that you are shouting at somebody?”

To BAA’s then-chief executive Stephen Nelson:“Do you provide a poor service?”Nelson: “I think that we have much to do in terms of improving our service and that we are making improvements, chairman.”“That’s a ‘yes’, is it?”

And again later…“To be fair, as long as we have been inquiring into airports the reason why there has always been the difficulties in Heathrow is that is has been a darn sight cheaper than anybody else. It is not exactly new, is it?”Nelson: “No. I think, chairman, therefore we are looking at the consequences of a long-term situation.”“Oh, I see. So it has been like that for the last, what, 15 years and now we are looking at the consequences? Well, that shows responsiveness.”

To the Department for Transport’s airport strategy director, Jonathan Moor, after he was asked why BAA’s buildings were in such a dilapidated condition:Moor: “I think that is a question for BAA…”“Oh, we asked them!”

And finally, a scathing humbling of the normally-robust EasyJet spokesman Toby Nicol, after he unwisely gave a sneak preview to London’s daily Evening Standard:“People who give the evidence they intend to give to a select committee to another party, and particularly to anyone in the press, before they arrive are actually committing a contempt of the House of Commons…This is, frankly, not acceptable. In the worst possible cases we then have to decide whether or not we intend to take evidence from you. We have, however, discussed this. We are extraordinarily unhappy. Have you any comment you wish to make?”Nicol: “No. Thank you very much for pointing that out and thank you if you continue to take evidence from me, and apologies.”“Did I hear a particular word?”Nicol: “Apologies.”

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