The chair of the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission has resigned from his role in protest at the government’s transport policies and its handling of Brexit.
Lord Adonis, a minister and secretary of state for transport between 2008 and 2010, said the incumbent’s recent decisions are “inexcusable” and are “threatening national infrastructure investment” in his resignation letter to Prime Minister Theresa May.
Lord Adonis was specifically referring to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling’s November decision to terminate the East Coast rail franchise three years early and accused the government of bailing out operators Stagecoach and Virgin Rail of the £3.3 billion ($4.5 billion; €3.7 billion) contract. The duo had taken over the franchise in 2015 from the publicly owned East Coast Trains, formed by Lord Adonis during his time in government.
Lord Adonis was appointed to the post by former chancellor George Osborne in 2015 when the NIC was first created, with a view to providing long-term infrastructure advice to the government. His interim role was made permanent last April when the NIC was established permanently, although not on a statutory basis as originally planned.
“The bailout will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds, possibly billions if other loss-making rail companies demand equal treatment,” Lord Adonis wrote. “It benefits only the billionaire owners of these companies and their shareholders, while pushing rail fares still higher and threatening national infrastructure investment.” He later added to The Observer that the bailout will cause “a slashing of the national infrastructure programme”.
He also accused the government of bullying the NIC following his initial outspoken response to the move by Grayling and his views as a staunch remain-supporting stance on the European Union.
“I had a very unpleasant period just before Christmas when the government threatened the National Infrastructure Commission with non-co-operation if I carried on criticising Chris Grayling’s bailout,” Lord Adonis said. “I thought that was deeply improper since I am an independent advisor.”
“Relations with the government had become increasingly tense in recent months because they kept telling me to shut up on Brexit, which I declined to do,” he told The Observer. “I told them my views on Brexit were quite separate from the future of national infrastructure.”
The Department for Transport has denied his claims relating to the rail franchise and said the deal represented value for money for taxpayers.
“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,” a spokeswoman said. “Stagecoach has also – on average – paid 20 percent 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.”