Overnight train boss under fire for flouting Scottish lockdown rules

Boss of Caledonian Sleeper trains is slammed for ‘flouting’ Scottish government orders not to travel after making ‘outrageous’ overnight trip from London to Inverness

  • Caledonian  Sleeper boss took overnight train from London to Inverness 
  • Rupert Soames, chief executive of Serco, arrived in the Scottish city on Tuesday
  • RMT Scotland organiser Mick Hogg: ‘He seems oblivious to the guidance’ 

The boss of Caledonian Sleeper trains has been accused of ignoring Scottish government lockdown rules and travelling from London to Inverness for a business trip.  

Rupert Soames, chief executive of Serco, which runs the Scotland to London overnight service, arrived by train in Inverness on Tuesday morning. 

The company claims his trip is ‘essential,’ as he is meeting key workers, but questions have been raised over why the 60-year-old couldn’t meet them via video chat. Meanwhile the Scottish government’s transport agency was unaware of the trip.

Rupert Soames, CEO of Serco, is in Scotland meeting with key workers on an ‘essential’ trip, a Serco spokesman said

The trip has been heavily criticised with politicians and unions alike claiming Mr Soames ‘cavalier attitude’ to the rules undermines the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

And the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) blasted the two-day trip, calling it ‘absolutely outrageous’.

RMT Scotland organiser Mick Hogg said: “I find that astonishing. It should not be happening.

‘There are other managerial colleagues who could deal with that. Clearly, he has not been listening and he seems oblivious to the guidance.

‘Does he think because he is a senior person in business it is OK for him to travel?’ 

Mr Soames, a grandson of Sir Winston Churchill, was handed £4.5million in 2019, including a £255,000 cash pension contribution, for his role as chief executive. 

Inverness-bound Caledonian Sleeper services start out at London Euston station

Rupert Soames arrived in Inverness from London on Tuesday via a Caledonian Sleeper train

The Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency, to whom Serco is answerable, said: ‘We were not aware this visit was happening.’

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said yesterday: ‘If you live just south of the Border and you work in an essential job then*that is perfectly legitimate.

 ‘But if you are coming to Scotland and are not covered by those essential purposes, then you potentially would be in breach of the law.’

Questions have been raised as to why Mr Soames did not speak to staff virtually rather than make the trip.

Scottish Labour transport spokesperson Colin Smyth said: ‘Those who work on our buses, trains and ferries have been heroic in keeping Scotland moving.

‘But there is a big difference between the crucial role a train driver plays ensuring their fellow key worker gets to work and a chief executive touring the country.

‘The message in Scotland remains “Stay at Home except for essential purposes,” and few will see Mr Soames tour as essential.

‘I’m not sure what Rupert Soames will have learned on his visits that he couldn’t have done by speaking to front-line staff virtually.

‘This incident seems to highlight the confusion caused by the UK Government’s message that people should get back to work.

‘The Scottish Government advice is absolutely clear – do not travel unless your journey is essential.

‘Mr Soames’ cavalier attitude to the Stay at Home message can only undermine the fight to control this pandemic.’

The overnight Caledonian Sleeper train from London to Scotland is owned by Serco

Serco declined to say whether Mr Soames would be visiting other parts of Scotland during his trip.

But a spokesman said he would be observing social distancing at all times.

Serco also revealed Mr Soames had made other visits in recent weeks to the company’s operations around the UK, including Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedfordshire and prisons at Thameside in south east London, Dovegate in Staffordshire and Doncaster.

A spokesman said: ‘As he has reported on Twitter, Rupert Soames has been visiting a number of front-line staff and key workers during the crisis, essential in his role as chief executive.

‘He fiercely defends his decision to show solidarity with front-line workers and believes that hiding at home while others are expected to work in trains, prisons and hospitals is not an appropriate style of leadership.

‘He is returning straight back to London on Wednesday, which will allow him to meet the guest services team in Inverness and four Caledonian Sleeper train crews.

‘Between times, he is doing permitted activity, job interviews and contract visits.’

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