PRWEEK AWARDS: Specialist & Technique - Public Affairs

WINNER - Railtrack Shareholders' Action Group, Bell Pottinger Financial

In October 2001, Stephen Byers MP announced that Railtrack, the company that owned and operated the UK's rail infrastructure, was going into administration.

He claimed that the company was no longer financially solvent and would not commit any further Government money to supporting it.

This contradicted the view of the Railtrack management, the Rail regulator and shareholders, who overnight saw the value of their investments reduced to zero.

Some of the key institutional shareholders in the company were so angered by this decision that they formed the Railtrack Shareholders' Action Group (RSAG). With the Government publicly stating that shareholders would not receive a penny in compensation, RSAG appointed Bell Pottinger Financial to keep the issue alive in the media and pressurise the Government to back down and recognise shareholders' rights.

Bell Pottinger advised on developing a website to attract new members to RSAG. This was widely publicised, and around 60,000 private shareholders signed up.

The PR team held regular press briefings to articulate the view that Byers' decision not only affected Railtrack investors but had wider implications for the City's future support for the Government's PFI/PPP.

Further media interest was secured through the placement of case studies featuring private shareholders and the employees of Railtrack who had joined the company's Share Save scheme.

On 23 March 2002, the Government announced it would make an offer to take Railtrack out of administration, with Network Rail, the not-for-profit company backed by the Government, buying the regulated assets for £500m.

After selling all the assets, the Government said shareholders would receive around £2.50 per share.

COMMENDED - Royal National Institute for Deaf People, Going Digital

RNID mobilised its membership to lobby MPs and the media over the government's refusal to make digital hearing aids universally available on the NHS.

On 24 December 2001, the Government succumbed and announced a £20m investment in audiology services.

COMMENDED - Age Concern England Penalised for Being Ill

Age Concern England exerted pressure on policymakers to amend the rule that cuts pensions and benefits for those who stay in hospital beyond six weeks. Last February, the Government announced that hospital penalties will not be incurred until 13 weeks.


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