Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 440-459)


  440. Thank you for that. The difficulty is that you have identified the whole nub of the argument, have you not, that the safety case that you have accepted is the safety case in relation to one structure but it is very clear that in future you are going to have to look at something which is completely different?
  (Kate Timms) That is true, but it is also the case that the work that has been done for version 3.0 paves the way for the work that we will have to do for 3.1.

  441. I do not think anyone would dispute that, but what is interesting is how much. Mr Coleman, you are giving indications that you would like to comment. Is that ground that will be altered by the different relationships of the private companies to London Underground after the changes?
  (Mr Coleman) There will certainly have to be changes to the safety case that we have accepted because the one we have accepted is based on all the companies being within the same group, so that is a rather different position from what is being proposed. The extent of the change is really a matter for the Underground to propose. We have not yet been presented with the material change which there will be to the version of the safety case we have just accepted.

  442. Is it likely to be much more complicated?
  (Mr Coleman) It is difficult to say. I would expect that it is not going to be as much of a change as we have just taken, but the implications of the change are much more severe. The second part of the work we have to do is in fact all about field work. A lot of what we have done in the last year has been looking at the systems and whether they are capable in principle of delivering. What we have to do now is an amount of field work which will feed into the decision which we will have to take in relation to the next version. There are several strands that come together. One is the change to the safety case which may not, in the extent of words changed, be that great, but we need also to look at other things. One of those things is how well is all this working on the ground? That seems to me to be quite fundamental before we go to what is a fairly irrevocable step forward.

Mr Stevenson

  443. Could I question you about the gap between principle and practice, because you have quite rightly pointed that out? One is that the RMT Union in particular expressed concern that in a number of areas London Underground are not complying with their existing safety case and therefore the prospect that they will be able to comply with a more complicated one by definition is more remote. What is your reaction to those concerns?
  (Mr Coleman) The extent to which they are going to be able to comply with the new safety case is something that will have to be tested. Remember that some of the changes which are in this safety case cannot be looked at on the ground because they are prevented from applying them until we have accepted the safety case. In other words they have to comply with the safety case that is now well over a year old at this moment. There is a bit of a chicken and egg situation here. From our perspective we need to look, we are going to look, at how well these systems are in place and we have been very grateful for the input from the trade unions who have helped us quite a lot in identifying the areas that we need to look at.

  Mr Stevenson: So when will version 3.0 trigger in?


  444. Version 3.1?
  (Mr Coleman) No. We have just accepted version 3.0. It is for the Underground now to set a date by which that will then be in place. They were looking at one or two months I think.

Mr Stevenson

  445. From when?
  (Mr Coleman) From the time of acceptance.

  446. From 3 December?
  (Mr Coleman) But I have not got a date with me today. I think we might be able to provide that afterwards.

  447. It is quite important because it affects my next question. My next question was going to be what arrangements you are making to monitor this complicated business. If you do not know when it is going to start you will hardly know when you are going to have your monitoring provisions in place.
  (Mr Coleman) That is true but there are a number of things we can look at now. We are in fact starting the process of doing the field work now. It is not just the new things. It is the things which we want to check that have arisen from our assessment. There are two sets of things: things that should be in place now, which we can look at now, and things which are going to be in place which we can look at when they are being implemented. We have set up a plan which is going to look at about a dozen very key areas to do some active field work, and that field work is going to be crucial.


  448. What kind of key areas, Mr Coleman?
  (Mr Coleman) The priority areas are things like maintenance arrangements, contractor management, standards, assurance of output. There are a number of other topics, change management, competence management. All of those things we believe we need to look at in great detail.

Mr Stevenson

  449. Forgive me but it is almost inevitable that members of this Committee will refer to evidence we received about what happened with Railtrack and its complete lack of monitoring and controlling its subcontractors. Presumably you are going to have subcontractors under this new and more complicated regime if it happens. How are you going to ensure as an organisation that the same problems, in some case tragic problems, that arose as a result of the complete lack of that company to monitor and control its subcontractors in terms of health and safety, will not recur?
  (Mr Coleman) One of the things is that one must learn from what has gone before. All the process which has gone into looking at what is before us now has taken into account some of the lessons which we have learned in the past.

  450. Give me some examples.
  (Mr Coleman) In relation to the contractor management the arrangements for contractor monitoring, for contractor management, through what is termed the contractor safety case, what is envisaged is that the Infraco will have a safety case which the Underground will monitor and control as part of its way of assuring itself that the main contractor will deliver what it intends to deliver and so would work in that area as looking at whether this is likely to be able to achieve the control which you rightly say needs to be there. That is an area where I am saying to you we need to look in practice now, having looked at what is being proposed for the existing arrangements, and we now need to look at how well that is in place and to take a view as to whether that is likely to deliver adequate control in the new environment.

  451. That sounds very reassuring but are you saying that as things stand today the Health and Safety Executive has not got within its detailed knowledge how the new Infracos are going to monitor and control from a health and safety point of view their subcontractors? Are you in a position to have detailed knowledge of mechanisms now or not?
  (Mr Coleman) We have a large amount of knowledge now from the assessment we have been doing over the best part of a year, and indeed the report which Kate Timms mentioned will outline exactly what we have done in that process. We do need to add to what we have done to do more work in terms of whether it is actually delivering on the ground. Whatever we have looked at in terms of principle, as we move towards a situation where the relationships change—and the relationships will change as it moves into a contractual relationship—those procedures have to be robust because otherwise, as you quite rightly say, there will be no robust control.


  452. So we are not assuming that the same sort of situation that developed in Railtrack will not develop in London Underground? You will remember that we took evidence from you and indeed you yourself were very concerned about the fact that the safety case would be given to one person on the theory that there would be some kind of continuing line of responsibility and that did not prove to be the case.
  (Mr Coleman) No, and what we have been doing is learning the lessons from some of that. The situation here I think is very different from the Railtrack situation. The effort that has gone in in terms of devising very specific contract monitoring and control arrangements between the Underground and at the moment subsidiary Infraco companies I think will be substantially different in kind from the kind of contractual relationships which Railtrack put in place at the time of privatisation.

Mr Stevenson

  453. Forgive me, but my questions were not directed at the Infracos. They were directed at the subcontractors that the Infracos may employ. Can we be clear: is that what we are talking about?
  (Mr Coleman) Of course within the Infracos' own procedures they have to control their subcontractors because they need to satisfy whoever is in control of the Underground that what is being done is delivering safety. This is all done through the management systems which are in place in order to assure the outputs which are being delivered.


  454. If you had two months only to monitor version 3.0 is that enough to prove that the new systems are going to be safe?
  (Mr Coleman) We have a programme of work which we are setting out through to February.

  455. Is the timetable still the same one, March 2002?
  (Mr Coleman) We have been advised that that is the broad timetable and we will aim to do the work in order to form a view on that timescale.

  456. So are you expecting version 3.1 to be on schedule in March 2002?
  (Mr Coleman) I am expecting to receive the submission from the Underground. We will then assess it. We will do the field work. We will then bring that together to say whether in fact we think that the case for safety has been made out. If it has been made out, fine, but we will take as much time as is necessary in order to form a view. As you probably have already realised, the anticipated timescales for the work we have just done have been extended because we needed to do that work, and if we have to do that again we will do so.

Miss McIntosh

  457. Who would be liable, in which case who would you prosecute, in the event of an accident involving a London Underground train under the PPP?
  (Mr Coleman) The prime responsibility for safety on the Underground will be with the safety case holder which is London Underground, because they are the ones who are running the system. They will run all the trains. They will operate the stations. They are in overall control. That does not of course mean that other people cannot be liable because if, in the event of an incident, it was caused by somebody else's negligence and somebody else failing to do what they should have done under the law, you can have the situation (which is quite common in health and safety law) of more than one party being held to be liable under the criminal law for what they have done or not done.

Mrs Ellman

  458. Would you be party to the details of the contract and would you be in a position to assess whether bonuses for good performance were in conflict with safety standards?
  (Mr Coleman) Yes, we have examined that. At one stage when we saw a draft contract we looked at that in quite some detail and we sent that out to our own lawyers. Our interest in looking at the contract is, does this contract support the safety control arrangements which are within the safety case? Is there contractual conflict? We are not too worried about commercial aspects within the contract except in so far as they interfere with safety control. We got that work done. Our lawyers made some suggestions as to how the contract could be improved in order to improve the inter-relationship, and I understand that those changes were made. But of course the contract (again as I understand it) has been changed since that time and we are expecting, when we see the final form of the contract, to send that back to lawyers to ask effectively the same questions because we understand that the contract may well have moved on a little since we assessed the detailed contract. It is something we know we have to do because one of the pieces of work that is going to come together in looking at version 3.1, which would be the PPP safety case, is to form a view that there is nothing in the contract that would provide these conflicts of legal responsibilities, one in the contract and one in the safety case. We want to make sure that they are on all fours one with another.

  459. Who will make the final assessment on whether other aspects of the contract are not in conflict with safety issues?
  (Mr Coleman) We will look at our bits. I can only imagine that the normal arrangements will apply and that those who are responsible for signing the contract will form their own assessment as to whether it gives them what they need.

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