Crossrail Ltd culture criticised in London Assembly report

23 Apr 2019

UK: Factors which contributed to the delay to the opening of the Crossrail line through London are set out in a report released by the London Assembly Transport Committee on April 23, along with recommendations intended to ensure that other large infrastructure schemes can be completed successfully.

The project to build an east–west tunnel under London and upgrade connecting lines is jointly sponsored by Transport for London and the Department for Transport, which take a hands-off approach to project management by TfL subsidiary Crossrail Ltd.

The Transport Committee says Crossrail Ltd’s desire to achieve the scheduled December 2018 completion date had ‘overpowered’ assessment of the risk of delays, with significant concerns raised by independent reviewer Jacobs from January 2018 being largely ignored. The report says TfL Commissioner Mike Brown watered down warnings in communications to the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. It also says the Crossrail Executive did not have the skills required at the later stages of the project to adequately assess and understand risks as they became apparent.

Recommendations

The report recommends:

1 Sponsors should ensure governance remains fit for purpose throughout the lifetime of a project, with reviews when there are shifts from construction to fit-out to operation;

2 Sponsors should review the skills needed throughout the life of the project, to ensure the right technical capacity is present;

3 The role of independent reviewers should be built into the governance structure, with sponsors outlining actions to be taken in response to their recommendations;

4 Corporate culture should encourage transparency and openness, balancing optimism to keep staff motivated against reliable communication of performance;

5 Sponsors should keep in check any overly optimistic corporate culture;

6 Remuneration packages for chief executives should be benchmarked against other projects, with bonus processes revisited periodically;

7 Decision-making on major projects should occur in formal meetings, minuted and held in public

8 The Mayor as Chair of the TfL Board must strengthen control over TfL to remain fully informed of progress with projects;

9 Transport Commissioner Mike Brown should reflect on ‘whether he is fit to continue to fulfil his role’;

10 Infrastructure projects should strive to keep designs simple, with standard rather than bespoke features;

11 Projects should include plans to deliver complementary works, including step-free access, at the outset.

'Embarrassingly long delay'

‘One of the most highly anticipated engineering projects the world has ever seen has found itself in a mess of overspending, mismanagement and an embarrassingly long delay’, said Caroline Pidgeon, Chair of the Transport Committee. ‘The inability of senior figures in the project to push past their obsession with a December 2018 launch date is one of the main reasons why their dream did not become a reality.’

Pidgeon said that although Crossrail’s former Chairman, Sir Terry Morgan, stepped down, ‘the evidence suggests that TfL Commissioner, Mike Brown, was at the centre of decisions to dilute important information sent to the Mayor.’

Responding to the report, a TfL spokesperson said ‘it is clear that the responsibility for the delay to the Crossrail project lies with the former management of Crossrail Ltd’, and ‘it is entirely incorrect to suggest the Transport Commissioner, or anyone at TfL, kept any information from the Mayor.’ TfL said the Commissioner ‘works to ensure that the Mayor is kept informed of everything going on in transport in London and to ensure the information he receives is clear, consistent and accurate’, and ‘it would not have been right to allow material to go to the Mayor that was incorrect or inconsistent with information that the management of Crossrail Ltd themselves were presenting to TfL and the Mayor in regular face to face meetings.’

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