TAXPAYERS’ MONEY ‘NOT ADEQUATELY PROTECTED’, SAYS PAC
THE HOUSE of Commons Public Accounts Committee has criticised the Department for Transport’s management of the railways. In its report on rail management and timetabling, the committee highlights issues including the May 2018 timetable disruption, the Govia Thameslink Railway and East Coast franchises and strategic management of programmes, including Crossrail.
Referencing the timetable disruption, the committee calls for ‘a clear governance and accountability structure for the railway’ to be set out ‘once and for all’, suggesting it is ‘alarming that the Department has not ensured a clear line of ownership and oversight of the timetabling process, and that it did not sufficiently probe the assurances it was getting from industry on progress’. It laments a lack of detail in how DfT is setting out what it is doing differently to encourage joint working between operators and Network Rail in new franchise contracts or how it is incentivising closer working in contracts already let.
Regarding the GTR franchise, the PAC says it is concerned the Department is ‘still not adequately protecting taxpayers’ money’. Noting the various travails of the franchise, the committee highlights that the latest commitment of £15 million to be spent on improvements for passengers is yet to be detailed. It suggests that outside the Thameslink Programme the franchise ‘failed to include sufficient investment to secure improvements for passengers’.
On the East Coast route, following the end of the Virgin Trains East Coast franchise and the transfer to LNER, the PAC calls for clarity on when service improvements promised by VTEC will be delivered, seeking this information by the summer. More widely, DfT’s strategic management of the railways is criticised in the wake of the delays to Crossrail, for which DfT is a joint sponsor with Transport for London. The PAC suggests DfT’s management ‘is not evolving quickly enough to be able to procure and execute complicated projects such as Crossrail so that they do not face cost increases and delays’. The committee says it remains unconvinced that the Department ‘had a sufficient and timely grip on the programme (Crossrail)’, suggesting DfT ‘did not sufficiently probe the assurances given by Crossrail Limited over the progress of the programme and its expected cost’. It compares the difficulties with similar issues seen on the Thameslink upgrade and Great Western modernisation and highlights concern about the forthcoming Trans-Pennine Route Upgrade.
Also criticised is progress in making the railway more accessible for passengers with disabilities, with the committee highlighting the slow speed of action. It calls for information by the summer setting out how DfT will ensure operators make sure passengers with disabilities can use the railway and to set out an enhanced monitoring regime to ensure compliance.