Trouble does seem to haunt the footsteps of Colin Matthews, the chief executive of BAA, the company that runs the currently icebound Heathrow airport on behalf of its Spanish masters Ferrovial.
This is the same Colin Matthews who was running the private water monopoly Severn Trent in 2007 when 350,000 of its customers were cut off for days on end; they were subsequently charged for the days they had no water, even though, at the time they were unable to wash, the company authorised a payout of £143 million to its shareholders.
Matthews faces the same problem today. He’s running a vital British public service, which remains, despite BAA’s forced sale of some of its airports, a kind of monopoly – there are other London airports, but there’s only one Heathrow. At the same time he isn’t running it for its users, the passengers and airlines. He’s running it for its shareholders – Ferrovial is the majority owner, the government of Singapore and the Quebec pension fund are the others.
It doesn’t make things any better for passengers and airlines that Ferrovial doesn’t seem to want Heathrow any more. A few weeks ago the company, which is heavily in debt, said it was going to sell off 10 per cent of BAA.
It’s hard enough, as steward, to tell the peasants with a straight face that the master cares for them, even though he doesn’t actually live on the estate. It’s still harder when you know the master is starting to sell off the estate to pay his debts. It would almost be possible to feel sorry for Matthews, were it not for his six-figure salary and his knack for skipping from job to job: BAA is the sixth firm he has worked for in 14 years.