Rupert Soames confident Serco is back on track

Soames and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon hold a model engine to 'mark Serco's high-profile rebranding of the Caledonian Sleeper service
Soames and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon hold a model engine to 'mark Serco's high-profile rebranding of the Caledonian Sleeper service
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THE scion of a renowned political dynasty, Serco chief executive Rupert Soames jokes that he could never be a politician himself “because I can never remember anybody’s name”.

But taking the helm at the embattled services group has given the grandson of Winston Churchill the chance to work on public policy and service delivery, areas of great interest to him, he told Scotland on Sunday.

“I think it just makes a huge difference to the quality of life if public services are well delivered. I’ve never really done it before and this is my last big job so I’m getting to do what I’ve always really wanted,” he says.

Soames took the reins in May last year, after 11 years at Scottish temporary power provider Aggreko, and said it has been “a rather busy time, because I was brought in when Serco was having significant difficulties”. These included scandals related to government contracts and what he describes as a staff morale “crisis”.

Soames insists that many of these issues have now “stabilised”, with morale improved, and its balance sheet and relationships with customers “in good order”.

However, hurdles undeniably remain. The firm, one of Scotland’s largest private employers with about 2,800 staff, said in a trading update earlier this month that while this year will be better than expected, 2016 is set to be a “further challenging year”.

Soames says the business has “another set of targets in front of us and we need to start winning business to replace revenues”, with the firm’s contract with Northern Rail, for example, having come to an end.

It is now vying for the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services contract, and in March took over the running of the Caledonian Sleeper. Last week staff on the rail service took 48-hour strike action over “the company’s failure to address the number of defects contained within the rolling stock”.

Speaking before the strike, Soames stressed that sleeper passenger numbers are already 6 or 7 per cent ahead of last year. However, he added that the services is “by no means perfect because we’re running with rolling stock that is in many cases over 40 years old”.

Serco is waiting for the arrival of new trains, he notes, that are set to come into service in 2018 “with all sorts of weird and wonderful innovations”.

In terms of Serco’s outlook, Soames says the group’s strategy is now “to focus very much on the provision of public ­services”.