Down The Tube explains why and how London's once world-beating Underground network reached this state and who was responsible.
In 2010, without fanfare or much publicity, the Public Private Partnership for the London Underground was quietly laid to rest. What had been touted as a £30 billion, 30-year scheme to revamp the Tube quietly collapsed when first one contractor, Metronet, and then the second,Tube Lines, pulled out of the deal. It had survived barely seven years, rather than 30.
This book, originally written in 2002 , sets out the intrigues, political machinations and private sector influence that led to the creation of the disastrous scheme.
After winning the 1997 election, Tony Blair's New Labour realised that the Underground desperately needed refurbishment. However, under their self-imposed spending constraints, there was no money available and privatisation, the Tories’ idea, was ruled out. The Public Private Partnership was the solution chosen by then chancellor Gordon Brown. Originally supposed to be entirely financed by the private sector, it ended up costing £1 billion per year of taxpayers money and proved an extremely expensive way of carrying out improvements on the Tube.
The book's conclusions include the startling facts that the PPP:
- Cost at least £400m million simply to set up
- Involved 135 volumes and 28,000 pages of contracts
- Failed to gaurantee the Tube the stable, long-term funding that was originally its principal attraction
- Passed the value for money test obligatory for all PFI schemes only with the help of transparent financial sophistries
- Depended for its operation on contracts of Byzantine complexity
- Split up a unified system with consequent increases in management costs and greater risks to safety
- Transferred little financial risk to the private sector
In giving a blow-by-blow account of the process by which the Labour Government foisted this ill-concieved scheme on a reluctant capital, Christian Wolmar reveals many hitherto unpublished aspects of the negiotiations, including first-hand accounts by many of the principal participants, and shows why the PPP failed.
This book is an important summary of a disastrous policy which cost the taxpayer billions and delivered very little of what was promised. By examining the intricacies of the deal and analysing the convoluted process that led to such an expensive mistake, Christian Wolmar’s book has enormous relevance today. It highlights the fact that complex deals like the Underground PPP, unfathomable to most people, are not necessarily either the best way of building or maintaining infrastructure, nor good value for taxpayers. This is an intriguing tale which, at times, beggars belief given the arrogance and overconfidence of the scheme’s creators.
Down The Tube focuses, too, on the role of Gordon Brown, whose stubborness in the face of advice from experts and stakeholders, was responsible for pushing the PPP through despite almost unanimous evidence that it was unworkable.
Christian Wolmar is a writer and broadcaster, and the author of On the Wrong Line: How Ideology and Incompetence Wrecked Britain’s Railways, and a series of history books on the railways including Fire & Steam, a new history of the railways in Britain.
'This book should be compulsory reading for everyone forced to endure the near-Hades that is the London Underground during rush hour.'