Graduates and University staff outside the Liverpool Cathedral

Neil Scales OBE

Oration

Presented by: Professor Frank Sanderson

Honourable Pro-Chancellor, I have pleasure in presenting Neil Scales for the award of an Honorary Fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University.  

Merseytravel chief executive and director general Neil Scales was named last year as one of the most influential people in UK public transport, above such luminaries as Sir Richard Branson. His popularity not only within the transport industry but also in the wider business community is testimony to his personal qualities and his communication skills. 

People appreciate this straight-talking North Easterner, his friend and Merseyrail chief Bart Schmeink admiringly describes him as blunter than any Dutch person I have ever come across, and believe me the Dutch are blunt. People also appreciate his optimism, a necessary quality for all us long-term and long-suffering Sunderland supporters. 

Neil Scales was born in 1956 in Sunderland, County Durham to Gordon and Joyce Scales. 

Always keen to learn, Neil did well academically at Southmoor Technical School and also played rugby for Durham Schools. His ten 'O' levels suggested the sixth form and university, but his decision to leave school at 16 was determined by national events. The family needed another wage earner, his father was a coal-face worker and the miners were on strike for the first time in 50 years and a three-day week was imminent.

Neil became an apprentice engineer, in fact the last craft apprentice with Sunderland Corporation Transport. He not only became trade qualified but he also studied for a series of work-related qualifications at Sunderland Polytechnic: ONC (Engineering), HNC (Electrical and Electronic Engineering), a BSc (Engineering), and an MSc in Control Engineering and Computing Systems, supplemented by qualifications in general management: a Diploma in Management Studies with Distinction, and an MBA with the Open University. He even became a part-time associate lecturer with the Open University and is proud of a pass-rate of over 90 percent for his students. 

Clearly an energetic life-long learner, Neil is now registered for a PhD, researching how to bring private sector-style business efficiency into the public sector. After his apprenticeship, he first worked for Tyne & Wear Passenger Transport Executive before becoming Director of Engineering and Purchasing at Greater Manchester Buses, and then Managing Director of Northern Counties Ltd in 1990. 

During the 1990s, his extensive experience of the transport sector served him well in consultancy work with several agencies, including the World Bank and the European Commission. For example, he advised on: appropriate management information systems for public transport companies in 14 Russian cities, Reconstruction of the transport system in Riga, the introduction of an integrated ticketing system for Istanbul, and a strategic review of public transport in Bahrain. 

In 1997, he was appointed as Director of Customer Services, Merseytravel, two years later becoming the Chief Executive and Director General, managing a workforce of around 1,000 and a budget of £250 million. Neil has completely reversed the fortunes of Merseytravel which is now recognised as one of the best transport authorities in the UK, and Merseyrail one of the best performing rail networks.   

His mission is to create a safe, secure, cost-effective, sustainable and integrated public transport system, accessible to everyone – an important challenge in a region where over a third of the population have no access to car transport. Inspired by Barbara Castle, Labour's Transport Minister in the 1960s he recognises that creating locally accountable strategic transport authorities for the conurbations is essential if the wider aim for a planned and integrated national transport policy is to be achieved. 

Neil has an acute understanding that his business is not just about looking at engineering solutions – the needs and perceptions of customers are absolutely critical. His study of management helped him to value the importance of people management, and particularly how best to motivate individuals. He has consistently sought to position his organisation as a good employer. 

Under his leadership, Merseytravel has become an award-winning work-based learning organisation and signatory of the Skills Pledge. All staff have been through a learning programme, including Neil, and over 90 percent of staff have achieved an NVQ Level 2 pass or higher. 

He has publicly backed the Workforce Wellbeing Charter which is designed to get organisations thinking about the health of their workforce. His enlightened approach in a diverse organisation has seen sickness rates fall, decreases in staff complaints and disciplinary hearings and a general improvement in morale. He has backed trials whereby some local buses will run on recycled vegetable oil (chip fat), thus ensuring that Merseytravel is at the forefront of promoting fully sustainable biofuels and significantly reducing CO2 emissions. 

He is a leading advocate of national smartcard policies for the transport sector and he has promoted Merseytravel's involvement in tourism to safeguard the future of Mersey Ferries, under threat because of the dramatic decline in numbers using the ferry for cross-river commuting. Today, as a direct result of Merseytravel's investment, a significant proportion of the 800,000 people who use the ferries every year are tourists, making them the most popular paid-for attraction in the region. 

Mersey Ferries, together with the Beatles Story, The U-Boat Story and Spaceport – the latter the result of a unique partnership between LJMU's Astrophysics Research Institute and Mersey Ferries – attract over one third of a million tourists per year, many of them from overseas. 

In 2005, he was awarded an OBE for services to transport. His range of experience and qualifications make him stand out in the transport sector, as do his impressive collection of fellowships: he is a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Fellow of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, Fellow of the Society of Operations Engineers, and Fellow of the Institute of Logistics and Transport. 

He also continues to make a major national impact on transport policy and practice: he is a member and former chair of the Passenger Transport Executive Group, raising awareness of transport challenges and sharing best practice, Chair of the Integrated Transport Smartcard Organisation, which promotes the use of smartcard ticketing across transport modes, appointed by the Government as a Member of the Commission for Integrated Transport, Chair of the Association of Commuter Transport's Travelwise network for all organisations working to promote sustainable travel, President of the European Platform on Mobility Management, Chair of the Real Time Information Group Member of the North-West 'Securing the Region's Future' roundtable, advising on environmental issues across the region, and Board member of the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership. 

He is also currently Chairman of the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a role which demonstrates his impact and influence in the wider business world. His enthusiasm for public transport remains undiminished, which is excellent news for Liverpool city-region. 

He is already acknowledged as an exceptional transport boss with the drive to deliver a fully-functioning integrated transport system locally and to lay the foundations for national integration. 

We are pleased to acknowledge his outstanding achievements.   

Thus I have great pleasure in presenting Neil Scales, this most distinguished servant of our city and region, for admission to our highest honour of Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University.