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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 460-479)


  460. Does that mean that you, the Health and Safety Executive, will not be in a position to see the details of the final contract in so far as it relates to safety?
  (Mr Coleman) No. We have an understanding that we will see the final form of the contract.

  461. An understanding? What does that mean?
  (Mr Coleman) Let me put it this way. The contract can be signed. People can take a commercial risk and sign up but until the safety case has been accepted the contract cannot come into force. It is therefore not in anyone's interest not to show us the contract, because if we found that it was defective in some way and we could not accept the safety case because of that conflict, it is going to stop the whole process. I think that there is every incentive to make sure that we are comfortable with the contract or there is going to be a problem later which will be much more difficult to resolve, so I feel confident that the undertaking that I have is in fact going to allow the contract to be seen by us in its final form so that we can be satisfied that it is not in conflict with the safety case.

  462. But if you did not have an absolute assurance that you would see the contract in its final form, giving you sufficient time to assess it, do you not feel that that could be bringing undue pressure on you to agree something which you would not want to agree to?
  (Mr Coleman) I believe that we have to take the time to do what is necessary in relation to that contract.

  463. Are you confident that you will be given that time?
  (Mr Coleman) Yes, I sincerely hope —

  464. You hope. Are you confident?
  (Mr Coleman) Yes, I am confident, because I cannot imagine people not giving us that time.

  465. Can I go back to not about what you imagine and not what you assume? What are the precise arrangements about your ability to assess that contract in its final stages in relation to safety issues?
  (Mr Coleman) When we are shown a version of the final contract, as and when it exists, we will get it scrutinised and we will make our response. I have to say that even after signing a particular contract there are mechanisms in most contracts to allow those contracts to be varied. From our point of view the acceptance of the safety case is going to be the final stage of our assessment through this process and all these other things come into that. Yes, I am confident that we are going to get sight of the contracts, but even if there is a signing of the contract in advance it does not necessarily mean that things cannot then be modified thereafter.


  466. You do not accept then that Transport for London think the mechanisms for controlling safety are unclear and impractical?
  (Mr Coleman) We have received quite an amount of advice from Transport for London and it has been very helpful. This is certainly an area we are going to need to look at. We looked at the contract in the version we had and, subject to some changes which we sought and we believe have been made, we were satisfied that it supported the safety case arrangements. Bear in mind that the contract does not sit on its own. You cannot just look at the contract. The contract requires the parties to comply with the safety case. As that safety case does not yet exist in its final form it is very difficult to take a full global view about what all the mechanisms are.

Mrs Ellman

  467. But surely this is a matter of such importance that you should be absolutely clear that you know what the mechanisms are?
  (Mr Coleman) Indeed.

  468. And it seems to me that while you understand that you will be in a position to see the contract before you make a final assessment, that does not appear to be a categorical statement.
  (Mr Coleman) We will see all the elements before we make our final decision. You were I think talking about the sequence, about, say, the signing of a contract within a process. From our point of view all these aspects of the work we do come together at the time when we look at the safety case version 3.1. We will certainly have seen the contract; we will certainly have been able to say whether that contract sits alongside the safety case, and of course it is the mechanisms which are spelt out within the safety case which are the ones which we think are designed to ensure safety.


  469. But what happens if one of the bids fails? Do you have to do the safety case all over again?
  (Mr Coleman) No. The safety case is a London Underground safety case.

  470. But it would be a different contract.
  (Mr Coleman) If it is a different contract we will look at the different contract.

  471. So you would have to do it again?
  (Mr Coleman) Yes, we would. If there was a completely different contract we would have to look at a new contract. How different a new contract would be from the draft contract which we have seen is I think unknown.
  (Kate Timms) The ultimate safeguard is the safety case. Our acceptance or rejection of the safety case is what is critical and the contracts have to be compatible with the safety case.

  472. I do not think the Committee has difficulty understanding that, Ms Timms. The difficulty that we have is firstly the question which Mrs Ellman keeps putting to you, that if you do not know precisely what the details of the contract are and what the contractors are undertaking, how can you be really satisfied that the safety case is robust? What we are trying to establish is, is it the case that you will see the final contract but nevertheless it will have been signed and the safety case will then be considered at that point? Is it the case that if the first bid fails and there is a second bid and material differences in the contract, you would have to do it all again? Perhaps we can have a yes or no, not a nod.
  (Mr Coleman) The answer is yes. As part of our process we have to look at the contract to check its compatibility with the safety case. That has to be done.

  Chairman: I think we have established that, Mr Coleman.

Andrew Bennett

  473. Have you got enough staff to do the job properly both in the safety case and in enforcing the safety case when it is in place?
  (Kate Timms) First of all, no organisation ever has enough resources, but in the case of HSE we have taken steps in two respects, first of all very substantially to increase the number of inspectors; secondly, looking ahead to what we know we have got to do on version 3.1 which, as Vic said, is imminent. We have already allocated resource to it and ring-fenced that resource so that we are ready to deal with version 3.1 as soon as it arrives. To the best of our ability the answer to your question is yes.

  474. So you have got enough, but London Transport and London Underground are also going to need people with roughly the same skills. Are you satisfied that they have got enough?
  (Mr Coleman) I think that the proof of the pudding is going to be in the eating. Some of the things that we have to go out and look at between now and February are going to have to be whether in fact the resource being applied to the systems is adequate. Bear in mind that the Underground had a very substantial team working on safety case development and the fact that they have got through one stage does not mean to say that those people are going to be dispersed to the four winds. They will no doubt keep their team together for the next stage.

  475. But infrastructure companies are also going to need people to do this work. Do you think there really are enough people in the country with the skills to do this?
  (Mr Coleman) In the country? Yes, I think there are people with the skills to do it.


  476. Mr Coleman, you are being very careful here and very diplomatic. You will remember that we did take evidence that you were short on staff yourselves and that you needed some considerable number of extra trained staff.
  (Mr Coleman) Yes.

  477. Is that still the case?
  (Mr Coleman) Let me give you some figures. In April last year I had 108 people in the Inspectorate. A few weeks ago when I checked we had 176 which is a very substantial increase.

  478. Yes, but that is not exactly an answer, Mr Coleman.
  (Mr Coleman) No, but, as Kate has said, it clearly provides the background in that we are able to ring-fence a resource which we believe is necessary to do the work which we have to do. If you are saying am I absolutely certain that the Underground and the Infracos have all the resource they need, I cannot tell you that I am absolutely convinced that that is the case, but that is largely because I have not been to look.

Andrew Bennett

  479. Who is doing the training of people for these skills?
  (Mr Coleman) Which particular skills?

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