Ministers were unable to stem Crossrail chaos after handing power to bosses, watchdog says

Posted On: 
3rd May 2019

Ministers were unable to deal with problems with Crossrail because of the "high degree" of autonomy handed to the project’s management, the Government’s spending watchdog has said.

Crossrail is now expected to be ready in March 2021.
Credit: 
PA Images

The National Audit Office said officials were left with “few effective contractual levers” as costs soared and delays increased.

In a damning report, the NAO said the way the project has been delivered has "damaged public value”.

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The new railway through London is being led by Crossrail Ltd, with the Department for Transport and Transport for London the joint sponsors.

It was initially expected to cost £14.8bn at most when it was announced in 2010, but that has now ballooned to £17bn.

The service, which will be known as the Elizabeth Line, has now been delayed until March 2021, having initially been pencilled in for completion in December 2018.

In their report, the NAO said: “In 2015, problems started to emerge on Crossrail and opportunities to change approach were missed. 

“The sponsors had few effective contractual levers to enable them to take action as they had provided Crossrail Ltd with a high degree of autonomy to deliver the programme.”

They added "Aiming for December 2018 meant multiple activities ran in parallel. The delivery approach, delays to some contracts and the decision to set and then stick to the December 2018 opening date, increased risks."

Amyas Morse, the head of the NAO, said: “Throughout delivery, and even as pressures mounted, Crossrail Ltd clung to the unrealistic view that it could complete the programme to the original timetable, which has had damaging consequences.

“DfT and TfL must support the new Crossrail Ltd executive team to get the railway built without unrealistic cost or time expectations.

“While we cannot make an overall assessment of value for money until Crossrail is complete, there have been a number of choices made in the course of this project that have clearly damaged public value.”

Public Accounts Committee chair Meg Hillier said: “As my Committee recently reported, the Crossrail programme has been mired by spiralling costs and delays. We have now learnt that services may not run for another two years.”

“The NAO's report provides much needed answers. It is concerning that Crossrail Ltd deluded itself for so long about its ability to meet its original opening date, and the £17bn plus programme‘s project management was not up to the job.

“Given that it is past the point of no return, Crossrail Ltd must now deliver to its revised plan if it is to provide much needed services to passengers and businesses.”

'WITHERING ASSESSMENT'

Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald said: "Today’s NAO report on the ongoing Crossrail delays is the latest withering assessment of the Department for Transport’s management of a major infrastructure project.

"This follows the department’s calamitous procurement of rail and ferry contracts which came to light this week. It is yet another disastrous failure of ministerial oversight from the Transport Secretary

"It is abundantly clear to everyone that this country can no longer afford Chris Grayling."

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “We have been deeply disappointed by the programme delays and cost overruns to Crossrail.

"As soon as Crossrail Ltd admitted delay, the Department and TfL acted swiftly to identify lessons, change the leadership of the Crossrail Ltd Board, and strengthen governance and oversight.

“Last week’s announcement of a revised schedule is an important update and passengers now know when they can expect to benefit from faster, better journeys. The focus must now be on ensuring the Elizabeth line opens as soon as is safely possible.”