Oops, I’ve spilt some concrete

This is one fiasco the private sector can’t be blamed for.

In 2010, Tube Lines – established under a public-private partnership (PPP) in 2003 to maintain and upgrade the London Underground train system – was rolled into government body Transport for London after suffering a funding shortfall, and the PPP was effectively wound up in ignominious circumstances.

London Mayor Boris Johnson couldn’t have been happier, proclaiming at the time that the Underground had been “freed from the perverse pressures of the Byzantine PPP structure”.

Whatever the failings of the deal struck in 2003, a bizarre recent episode confirmed that you don’t have to be part of a PPP consortium to make a hash of ongoing operations. Already accustomed to unlikely excuses for delays and cancellations, London Underground travellers were nonetheless taken aback by the announcement that the Victoria line was being closed due to an unforeseen concrete spillage.

Yes, they heard it right: part of the line’s control room had been flooded by wet concrete which had escaped from an adjoining room where contractors were carrying out upgrade work. The concrete ended up swamping vital relay equipment.

The Mayor should have been careful what he wished for in talking about the PPP’s lack of flexibility. The new arrangement appears to be truly set in stone.