Transport for London commissioner Mike Brown has denied claims by the London Assembly’s transport committee that he watered down warnings about the risk of Crossrail not opening on time when briefing Sadiq Khan about the project and dismissed its recommendation that he should “reflect on his fitness” to continue in his job.
Questioned by the committee today at the start of his annual appearance before it, Brown repeatedly said he had conveyed “consistent and coherent” information to the Mayor about the state of the project based on what he and others were told by the then leadership of Crossrail Limited, including at numerous meetings held in public.
A report by the committee, published on Tuesday, into why Crossrail’s Elizabeth Line service did not open as long promised on 9 December last year included extracts from emails which it said showed that Brown had excluded or toned down warnings about elements of the project running in difficulties in his regular briefings to the Mayor.
However, Brown rejected committee chair Caroline Pidgeon AM’s assertion that he had “watered down some of the risks” for mayoral consumption. “The issue about any particular wording is around consistency and coherence of message. It is incumbent on me to make sure that the Mayor gets a consistent and coherent set of briefings,” he said.
He later added in answer to Keith Prince AM that: “A lot of the stuff that we got to put in the briefings for the Mayor frankly wasn’t even legible and I had to ensure that it was properly communicated in a clear and consistent way to the Mayor.”
Brown strongly denied that the Mayor had been kept in the dark about concerns over the start date, telling the committee that a range of issues, including those highlighted by an independent reviewer, had been fully discussed at a series of meetings held in public throughout 2018, including TfL board meetings which the Mayor chaired, as well as numerous private ones attended by the Mayor, Brown and the then chairman of Crossrail, Sir Terry Morgan.
“Let me be very clear that the then chief executive and particularly the then chair [of Crossrail] were absolutely adamant that the December starting date was going to be achieved,” Brown said. “Ultimately the accountability and responsibility for delivering this project was [with] the independent chair and independent board of Crossrail.”
Mayor Khan has expressed full confidence in Brown, who described for the committee visiting Maidenhead, which the Elizabeth Line will serve, on 15 June last year to brief Theresa May in her constituency at a meeting set up by Crossrail. Brown said he was told by Crossrail to “tell the Prime Minister it’s absolutely certain we’re going to meet the ninth of December. I certainly wouldn’t brief the Prime Minister incorrectly if I felt there was a risk to the programme.”
He repeated the claim, also made by the Mayor and his deputy for transport Heidi Alexander that, “Right up until the end of August last year the date on December 9th was being held and in all the discussions – every single discussion – with the then Crossrail chair and chief executive”.
Brown confirmed that he, Mayor Khan and the new Crossrail chairman Tony Meggs will brief the full Assembly in the coming days “as soon as we have a clear indicative plan of the new schedule emerging”.