Sadiq Khan has expressed “every confidence” in Transport for London (TfL) commissioner Mike Brown in the face of calls for him to consider resigning over delays to the opening of the Crossrail Elizabeth Line.
The Mayor’s defence of Brown follows publication of a report by the London Assembly’s transport committee whose eleven recommendations include that “the commissioner reflects on whether he is fit to fulfil his role in TfL”.
The transport committee report, entitled Derailed: Getting Crossrail Back On Track, says that emails between Crossrail Limited, the TfL-owned company delivering the project, and TfL itself suggest that weekly communications to the Mayor about progress towards the opening of the Elizabeth Line service were being “managed” by Brown with the effect of downplaying the risk of the intended start date of December 2018 being missed.
Caroline Pidgeon, the experienced Liberal Democrat AM who chairs the transport committee, said “the evidence suggests that Mike Brown was at the centre of decisions to dilute important information send to the Mayor”.
However, the Mayor has retorted that “both the TfL commissioner and I have been fully transparent about what we knew about the delays to Crossrail, including around the the key information the previous Crossrail leadership gave to TfL and the Department for Transport (DfT)”.
Sir Terry Morgan, who had chaired Crossrail since 2009, resigned in December following a public disagreement with Mayor Khan over when the Mayor had been informed that the Elizabeth Line would not open on time. In his statement, the Mayor reiterated his view that TfL and the DfT “should have been told much more, far sooner” by Sir Terry and his senior colleagues.
The Mayor added that new Crossrail chairman Tony Meggs is “strengthening the project’s governance”. New chief executive Mark Wild confirmed at the TfL board meeting in March that he will announce a new plan for the opening of the main, central stretch of the Elizabeth Line during this month. Recent reports have indicated it could now be delayed until 2021 although a “best case scenario” of spring 2020 and a “middle probability case” of next summer were also possible.
A spokesperson for Brown and TfL has, as MayorWatch reports, similarly rejected the transport committee’s conclusions, saying, “It is entirely incorrect to suggest the Transport Commissioner, or anyone at TfL, kept any information from the Mayor.”
The committee, comprising four Labour and three Conservative AMs plus one Green and one member of the Brexit Alliance Group (formerly of UKIP) as well as Pidgeon, also recommended that the Mayor and the TfL board, which he chairs, “must strengthen control over TfL” so they can be better informed about progress on projects for which they are ultimately responsible. The report argues that “unchecked optimism” has been a problem within TfL before, citing delays in the upgrade of some London Underground lines.
There are also criticisms of the “corporate culture” of Crossrail, which is accused of its own over-optimism about meeting the project completion date and having an executive that “did not have the skills required at the later stages of the programme to adequately assess and understand risk as the project moved from construction to operations”. It points out that a review produced in January 2018 by a team of independent auditors had found “significant risks” to achieving the December 2018 opening date, but that these were not acted on adequately.
Blame for this is partly attributed to the wider Crossrail “governance model” for failing to give the role of the independent reviewers sufficient weight. Crossrail was set up to function at “arms length” from both mayoral and national government with the intention of insulating it against political interference.
However, the report records concerns that this “light-touch approach” made it difficult for TfL and the DfT, which are Crossrail’s joint sponsors and funders, “to fully understand the programme and its risks”. It notes that earlier this year the Mayor’s deputy for transport, Heidi Alexander, questioned whether “the governance arrangements that have been put in place for this project are right”.
Photograph from transport committee report by Hugh Llewelyn.