Railtrack case puts focus on Gov't PR

This Government has a reputation for spin and the presentation of policy too often seems to take precedence over its delivery. So it should not come as a shock to read documents filed in court as part of the Railtrack shareholders' action against the Government, which began on Monday.

Even in a sadly cynical world, they take your breath away. Take an email from the Treasury's Shriti Vadera to colleagues, in which she discusses a complex form of refinancing for holders of bonds in the railway company: 'It would have the great presentational advantage of not being seen to bail out the banks wholesale in preference to grannies and the terms could be complex enough to lose the tabloids.' ('Grannies' is the dismissive term the memos give to small private shareholders.) The fact that they would be financially wiped out is referred to as 'grannies losing their blouses'.

On another occasion Vadera says: 'I think the ideal for us would be to get (Railtrack chairman John) Robinson's support but squeals from others so we get a nice balance of not endorsing the management but looking sensible.' When dealing with the possibility that rail regulator Tom Winsor might use his powers to bail out the company, she writes: 'We cannot silence him and if he stands up and says he has a grand plan, which could keep the company solvent, we are up the creek.'

The interesting thing about these memos, and the even more damning evidence that may come out when witnesses such as Winsor take the stand, is the damage they could do to the reputation of the Treasury. Some see this case as crucial in defining the sanctity of contracts between government and private sector. But the Government has lost, whatever the verdict, by having its inner machinations exposed.

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