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MPs says Thameslink progress hampered by lack of civil servants

29 Oct 13 The £3.5bn Thameslink rail project is taking more than 30 years to deliver because there are not enough civil servants in the Department for Transport.

That, at least, is the conclusion that has been reached by the House of Commons public accounts committee (PAC).

“The Department suffers from a shortage of strong project management skills,” the PAC reports. “There is a core Thameslink team of just five which seems too small for a programme of this scale, compared with teams for other complex government projects.”

And with the team leader now moving on to the HS2 project, the committee fears for the remainder of the Thameslink programme, scheduled to complete in 2018.

It recommends that the Department for Transport “put in place a clear plan to build sufficient, appropriate skills in the organisation to match the scale and ambition of its portfolio of projects”. 

PAC chair Margaret Hodge said: “We question whether the Department has enough people with strong project management and commercial skills necessary to take forward its very ambitious portfolio of big projects.

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“The impression that there is a scarcity of these skills is reinforced by the apparent need to move the key civil servant leading the Thameslink team, the man whose experience, skills and continuity have been crucial to the delivery of the programme, over to the High Speed 2 team.”

The DfT is sponsoring the programme to increase passenger capacity on the Thameslink route through central London. The programme comprises three interrelated projects— to improve rail infrastructure, to buy new trains, and to let the new franchise to operate the new services. The infrastructure project to improve tracks and stations at a cost of £3.55bn (2006 prices) is being delivered through Network Rail.  The DfT is buying the new trains, with an estimated capital cost of £1.6bn, through a private finance initiative.  It is also responsible for letting the new franchise and overall management of the programme.

The PAC also expressed scepticism that PFI was the best procurement method for the trains

The report says: “It is alarming that the Department only compared the PFI option against another private sector option and did not construct a public sector comparator to understand better the relative costs of choosing the PFI route. Since our hearing the Department has awarded the contract for supplying new trains to a consortium of Siemens and Cross London Trains and we intend to examine this deal further.”

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