Robert N Forsythe, Issue 112/10, p22, 01.10.2012
Getting the National Railway Museum back on track
For many, the news of the 19 September that Steve Davies, director of the National Railway Museum, was to leave within six weeks might have seemed shocking. He had been in post for two and a half years.

The challenges he was having to face were deep seated. The much publicised restoration of the Flying Scotsman locomotive had started in 2006, missed numerous deadlines and there is still no completion date. Matters like this grab the headlines, and there have been several others. 

Surely at the root of the problem is not individual instances but an endemic lack of systematic management? A root of this lies in the 1975 decision that York would not have its own trustees. The museum director and management team do not undergo close public scrutiny.

Going forward, the museum will need to be far more accountable. Part of that process could usefully involve reflecting on its past. The NRM+ bid, which was rejected in 2011, may already have been forgotten, but it sought to address some of the museum’s deep seated challenges.

In the immediate future the new man has to confront a mix of fire-fighting and strategy development. With a summer of questioning media stories, on the day of the resignation announcement two Gresley A4s weighing in at 165 tons each sit on the quayside at Halifax Nova Scotia.

Davies made it his mission to repatriate these two engines (four are already in the UK). Whether that project should proceed must be a burning question this very day in Whitehall.

The long-term success of the new appointment, Paul Kirkman, parachuted in from Department for Culture, Media and Sport, will be whether he can move beyond the immediate and provide the museum with tools that make it fit for purpose.

These can be as simple as a published staff structure plan, an email acknowledgement system and as complex as taking off where NRM+ had been stopped.

Robert N Forsythe, MA member (www.fionnconsultancy.co.uk)