ASA rules against train company advert implying public ownership

30 March 2016

PRESS RELEASE - this story was covered in the Guardian, the Morning Star and the Western Daily Press.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled that a Great Western Railway poster stating that ‘the railway belongs to the region it serves’ is misleading and breaches advertising standards.

The ASA ruling said: “We told Great Western Railway not to suggest in future that the railway franchise was publicly owned, if that was not the case.”

Four complainants pointed out that Great Western Railway was owned by an international company (FirstGroup), and said that the advert implied the railway was publicly owned.

Dan Gregory, Director of Common Capital and We Own It advisor was one of those who made a formal complaint. He said: “Many of us feel very strongly that the railways should be in public hands. Some of us have been proposing not for profit or cooperative models. The fact that a private franchise is trying to score points by pretending to be something it isn’t shows the urgent need for us to take seriously these models of common ownership.”

Cat Hobbs, Director of We Own It said: “Privatisation is now so unpopular that train companies can get good PR by pretending to be publicly owned. 66% of us want the railways that work for people rather than profit. Passengers are frustrated with paying sky high fares while profits go to shareholders. The GWR advert is misleading – it’s also a sign that it’s time for real public ownership.”

The ASA said that “The railway belongs to the region it serves” was likely to be understood by consumers to imply that GWR was publically owned and, as such, there could be a resulting financial benefit to the region that GWR operated in.

The ASA found that the advert “might encourage consumers to use or enquire about using the service, for example, out of regional loyalty or because they believed profits directly belonged to the local region. We therefore concluded that the ad was misleading.”

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