Lord Adonis has stood down as National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) chair, blaming ‘fundamental differences which simply cannot be bridged’ between himself and the government
Sadie Morgan, a commissioner at the NIC, described the departing Adonis as ‘an absolutely brilliant chair’ who was ‘passionate, rigorous with a great perspective and deep knowledge’.
She added: ‘I’ll miss his ability to take risks and get things done – a rarity in politics.’
In his resignation letter, Adonis, a Labour peer, said his work at the commission had become ’increasingly clouded by disagreement with the government’ in particular differences over Brexit, which he described as a ‘populist and nationalist spasm worthy of Donald Trump’.
If Brexit happens, taking us back into Europe will become the mission of our children’s generation
He said: ‘If Brexit happens, taking us back into Europe will become the mission of our children’s generation, who will marvel at your acts of destruction.’
Despite Brexit, Adonis said that he would have had to resign because of transport secretary Chris Grayling’s ‘indefensible’ decision on the Stagecoach/Virgin East Coast rail franchise, describing it as a ‘bailout’ which will possibly cost taxpayers billions of pounds if other companies want the same treatment.
Virgin Trains East Coast – a joint venture between Stagecoach and Virgin Group – had undertaken an eight-year deal to run the loss-making railway until 2023, which will now finish three years early.
Adonis said: ‘The only rationale I can discern for the bailout is as a cynical political manoeuvre by Chris Grayling, a hard-right Brexiteer, to avoid following my 2009 precedent when National Express defaulted on its obligations to the state for the same East Coast franchise because it too had overbid for the contract. I set up a successful public operator to take over East Coast services and banned National Express from bidding for new contracts. The same should have been done in this case. Yet, astonishingly, Stagecoach has not only been bailed out: it remains on the shortlist for the next three rail franchises.
’The East Coast affair will inevitably come under close scrutiny by the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee, and I need to be free to set out serious public interest concerns.’
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: ‘No one is getting a bailout and Virgin Stagecoach will continue to meet its financial commitments made on the East Coast rail franchise to the taxpayer as it has done since 2015.
’Stagecoach has also – on average – paid 20 per cent more back to the taxpayer than when the line was operated by Directly Operated Rail and we continue to receive hundreds of millions of pounds.
‘The decision to bring in a partnership to run the service from 2020 is to ensure the train companies work more closely with those responsible for the infrastructure like the track and signalling to help improve the service for passengers.’
Last month the NIC announced plans for a 20-strong Young Professionals Panel, made up of young architects, designers and planners, which will advise the body as it develops the UK’s first ever National Infrastructure Assessment.
In December the commission also named the winner of an international contest for ideas to boost sustainable development within the UK’s Cambridge-to-Oxford growth corridor.
The competition, organised by Malcolm Reading Consultants, was won by an all-women team led by Jennifer Ross from Tibbalds and including Sarah Featherstone of Featherstone Young, Kay Hughes from Khaa, Petra Marko of Marko and Placemakers, Annalie Riches of Mikhail Riches, and Judith Sykes from Expedition Engineering.
Mark Middleton, managing partner (London), Grimshaw
The departure of Lord Adonis is both good and bad. Good, in that a politician has been willing to stand up to the dismal course of action the government is taking, but bad because the infrastructure commission has lost an important and knowledgeable chair.
He is one of the few at the highest levels of government who truly understand transport, and the railways in particular.
Astonishing and brutally eloquent letter from Lord Adonis as he quits the National Infrastructure Commission.— Russell Curtis (@russellcurtis) December 29, 2017
"The EU withdrawal bill is the worst legislation of my lifetime...a populist and nationalist spasm worthy of Donald Trump." https://t.co/I0Fv2Mvm5t