Chief executive quits rail regulator in dispute over government reforms

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The Independent Online

One of Britain's top rail officials was ousted yesterday after just three months in the job as fresh turmoil hit the regulation of the industry.

One of Britain's top rail officials was ousted yesterday after just three months in the job as fresh turmoil hit the regulation of the industry.

The Office of Rail Regulation said that its chief executive, Suzanne McCarthy, had quit with immediate effect having only taken up the £120,000-a-year post in July. She has already left the ORR's Holborn offices in London and has been erased from the organisation's official website.

Her departure follows that of Richard Bowker, the chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority, who fell victim to the Government's review of the industry. The review, published in July, abolished the SRA and brought responsibility for the strategic direction of the rail network back under Whitehall control.

A statement from the Office of Rail Regulation also blamed the departure of its chief executive on the rail review, saying that as a result of it, Ms McCarthy had deciding it was "not the job she thought she came to the ORR to do".

Observers were puzzled by the stated reason for her departure, given that she took up the job only three weeks before the Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling, published the rail review. Far from clipping the ORR's wings, the review extended its powers, giving it responsibility for railway safety and performance in addition to its role as economic regulator.

Insiders said that Ms McCarthy had, in effect, been removed by the board of the ORR, which is chaired by Chris Bolt. Ms McCarthy, 55, was described as a "square peg in a round hole" who found the high-profile nature of regulating the rail industry very challenging.

A former chief executive of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme and, before that, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, Ms McCarthy joined the Civil Service in 1989, working for the Home Office.

She was on a three-year contract at the ORR but a spokesman could not say whether she would receive any severance pay or whether she had another job in the public sector to go to.

Her temporary replacement is Keith Webb, the ORR's director of corporate affairs who had himself been due to take early retirement. He has agreed to do the job for a minimum of nine months and up to a year while a permanent replacement is sought.

Since the departure of the previous Rail Regulator, Tom Winsor, and creation of the new Office of Rail Regulation, the job of regulating the railways has changed markedly. Ms McCarthy reported to a five-strong board chaired by Mr Bolt and including other members drawn from the rail industry and the worlds of utility regulation, law and customer services.

Ms McCarthy and Mr Bolt were not available for comment and nor was Mr Webb prepared to talk about the changes at the ORR.