Posted 3rd April 2019 | No Comments

MPs ‘alarmed’ over Crossrail delays

Warning signs were ‘missed or ignored’
Failure to identify root causes is ‘unacceptable’
Shortcomings in DfT’s project management
► Committee ‘not convinced’ that line will open in 2020

THE delays to Crossrail and its spiralling costs are ‘unacceptable’, a committee of MPs has concluded.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee is particularly critical of the Department for Transport in a report published today.

It says that Crossrail was ‘supposed to set the standard for delivery of transport programmes, where the skills and knowledge gained from the programme could be exported around the world. Instead, yet again, costs have escalated and delivery dates have turned out to be over-optimistic.’

No opening date has been set for opening the line under central London between Paddington and Liverpool Street, and the MPs are ‘not convinced that new services will start to run in 2020 as now hoped, nor that the additional £2.8 billion of funding provided will be enough.’

The report is also scathing about the failure of Crossrail Ltd and the DfT to report progress properly, while ‘key warning signs were missed or ignored’.

The Committee says it is ‘increasingly alarmed at the continual shortcomings our work has highlighted in the Department’s project management and oversight of the railways and we will continue to look closely at progress with this programme’, while it is also concerned about the ‘clarity of message we have received from the Department throughout the programme.

We have, previously, questioned the Department on the additional funding, only for more funding to be agreed at a later date. This is symptomatic of how the costs have been allowed to spiral out of control whilst question marks remain around completion.’

The report includes several recommendations, including a requirement for feedback from the DfT within six months to ‘explain the steps it is taking to encourage a culture of openness and transparency internally and across its delivery bodies’. The Committee is also asking for updates at regular intervals.

A second recommendation says the DfT ‘should consider the root causes of cost increases and delays and should write to the Committee by June 2019 setting out how it has taken lessons learned’, while a third says ‘the Department should set out how it considered the value for money for the taxpayer when agreeing to increased funding’.

The Committee also wants responses from the DfT to ‘outline how it has assured itself that the revised schedule and cost to completion are robust‘, and how the extra £2.8 billion has been allocated, as well as explaining how the DfT has ‘changed its contractual relationship with Crossrail so that it can properly exercise oversight and hold Crossrail Limited to account for its performance’.

Finally, the DfT must ‘as a matter of urgency’, write to the Committee ’clearly articulating what it, Transport for London and Crossrail Limited are responsible and accountable for in relation to Crossrail and what the consequences have been for those senior officials in positions of accountability. We expect this letter by the end of April 2019.’

Public Accounts Committee chair Meg Hillier said: ‘It is clear that the delivery deadline of December 2018 had been unrealistic for some time. But the Department for Transport, Transport for London and Crossrail Limited continued to put a positive face on the programme long after mounting evidence should have prompted changes.

‘Wishful thinking is no basis for spending public money and there remain serious risks to delivering this programme, with a revised schedule and costings for completing the work still to be agreed. Some £2.8 billion of extra funding has been provided ut even that may not be enough.

‘It is unacceptable that Parliament and the public still do not know the root causes of the failures. Nor will we accept the Department and Crossrail Limited’s description of these serious problems as “systems failures”.’

She concluded: ‘Accountability in the use of public money is of fundamental importance. The Department should write to us urgently to explain what it, Transport for London and Crossrail Limited are responsible and accountable for, and set out clearly what consequences there have been for well-rewarded officials whose costly failures are paid for by taxpayers.’

Speaking to the London Assembly on 9 January this year, the new Crossrail chief executive Mark Wild spelt out the reasons for the delays. He said: ‘The stations, the trains, the signalling systems, the software integration, the control systems, the interface with Network Rail: the truth is that the complexity was not fully understood.’