Lord Adonis has resigned from his role as National Infrastructure Commission chair, citing “fundamental differences which simply cannot be bridged” between himself and the government.
In his resignation letter he wrote: “My work at the Commission has become increasingly clouded by disagreement with the Government, and after much consideration I am writing to resign because of fundamental differences which simply cannot be bridged.”
The first of these differences is Brexit, which he describes as a “populist and nationalist spasm worthy of Donald Trump.”
He said: “If Brexit happens, taking us back into Europe will become the mission of our children’s generation, who will marvel at your acts of destruction.”
Brexit aside, Adonis said that he would have had to resign because of transport secretary Chris Grayling’s “indefensible” decision on the Stagecoach/Virgin East Coast rail franchise, describing it as a “bailout” which will possibly cost taxpayers billions of pounds if other companies want the same treatment.
Virgin Trains East Coast - a joint venture between Stagecoach and Virgin Group - had undertaken an eight-year deal to run the loss-making railway until 2023, which will now finish three years early.
Adonis said: “The only rationale I can discern for the bailout is as a cynical political manoeuvre by Chris Grayling, a hard right Brexiteer, to avoid following my 2009 precedent when National Express defaulted on its obligations to the state for the same East Coast franchise because it too had overbid for the contract. I set up a successful public operator to take over East Coast services and banned National Express from bidding for new contracts. The same should have been done in this case. Yet, astonishingly, Stagecoach has not only been bailed out: it remains on the shortlist for the next three rail franchises.
“The East Coast affair will inevitably come under close scrutiny by the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee, and I need to be free to set out serious public interest concerns. I hope the PAC calls Sir Richard Branson and Sir Brian Souter to give evidence. I am ready to share troubling evidence with the PAC and other parliamentary committees investigating the bailout.”
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “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.
“Stagecoach has also – on average - paid 20% 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.
“The decision to bring in a partnership to run the service from 2020 is to ensure the train companies work more closely with those responsible for the infrastructure like the track and signalling to help improve the service for passengers.”