The UK’s rail franchise system (where private companies bid for the right to tun rail services on the national infrastructure)  was introduced to improve competition and efficiency.  

However, the bids – and the assessment of them – were highly over-optimistic. They looked to offer value-for-money for the government/taxpayer and a good return for the franchisee …. but in reality, these benefits rarely accrued.

The reality was poor quality service and low profits.

This phenomenon is all too common in government contracting -where someone has a good idea but no-one has the information or expertise to establish an effective measurement and monitoring regime.

However the real problem lies in setting goals.  The aims of an effective rail transport system should perhaps more sensibly be set as safety, reliability and punctuality – whether that translates into profits might then depend on the subsidies government is prepared to provide.

Government should learn more about setting SMART  (Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Relevant and Time-bound) goals – and thinking through the unintended consequences of policy decisions.

(Incidentally, you might notice that my expansion of SMART differs from the most common set of words used. That suggests A stands for Attainable, but I much prefer Assignable. You must know who is responsible for achieving the goals – who has been assigned responsibility.  I think if goals are Specific, Messurable, Assignable, Relevant and Time-bound they are Attainable.)