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Rail Electrification

Volume 639: debated on Thursday 26 April 2018

6. To ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission, what criteria the National Audit Office used to establish the timescale for its investigation into the cancellation of rail electrification projects by the Department for Transport; and if he will make a statement. (904968)

I have been asked to reply on behalf of the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission.

The National Audit Office’s investigation published in March 2018 sets out factually the sequence of events leading up to the Department for Transport’s announcement in July 2017, cancelling the three electrification projects in response to concerns raised about the decision-making process. As such, the majority of the report is focused on the period up to, and including, July 2017 when the Department announced its decision. The investigation also considered the Department’s assessment of the subsequent impact of its decision on promised benefits. The facts in the report were agreed by the Department and reflect evidence that was provided to the NAO.

I congratulate the National Audit Office on its report, but why did the investigation not seek to evaluate either the value for money of the projects or the decision to cancel?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his tireless work in this area on behalf of his constituents. The NAO conducts investigations to establish the underlying facts and circumstances where concerns have been raised. Investigations are not evaluative and do not seek to provide a conclusion on value for money. The report was focused on the concerns that had been raised. However, the report does comment on the costs and benefits of the three cancelled electrification projects and the case for electrification more generally. In the Secretary of State’s announcement in July 2017, he explained that projects were cancelled on the basis that it was no longer necessary to electrify every line to deliver passenger benefits. The NAO investigation says that it was too early to tell whether the promised benefits could be achieved without full electrification. When the Secretary of State made his decision to cancel electrification, the Department told the NAO that it expected the manufacturers to be able to develop bi-mode trains that would deliver the required service improvements on the midland main line.