London Mayor candidate Norris set to chair Jarvis

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The Independent Online

Steven Norris, the Conservative Party candidate for London Mayor, is set to be appointed the interim chairman of Jarvis, the troubled engineering group, tomorrow.

The company's board is due to hold a meeting this afternoon, at which Paris Moayedi, the current executive chairman, will offer his resignation. This is unlikely to be contested, paving the way for Mr Norris, the senior non-executive of the company, to take the reins until a permanent replacement is found.

Mr Norris's appointment is sure to spark political controversy and accusations of conflicts of interest in the run-up to the mayoral election. Although he plans to step down from Jarvis if elected in June next year, opposition candidates are likely to focus on his involvement with one of the largest contractors for maintenance of the London Underground network. Mr Norris has already faced flak for his role as senior non-executive on the board.

The Tube's service record will be a significant feature of each candidate's campaigns, as overseeing public transport is one of the main functions of the mayor. A derailment at Camden Town last month, which injured seven people and put parts of the Northern Line out of action for several weeks, occurred on a stretch of track maintained by Jarvis.

Supporters of Mr Norris hope his high-profile appointment will aid his campaign. One friend said: "His experience of business, particularly in the transport sector, and his strong reputation in the City, give him a special advantage over other candidates."

Mr Moayedi, who is 65 and has been with Jarvis for nine years, has come under pressure from shareholders to step down, having become too closely identified with the glut of accidents that have blighted Jarvis in the past two years.

He turned what was once a small property group into a £350m contractor. But investors have become increasingly anxious over Jarvis's safety record, whose latest blunder involved laying new tracks on the West Coast Line incorrectly.

Jarvis is still under investigation for its role in the Potters Bar rail crash. It was responsible for maintaining track at Potters Bar when a train derailed in May 2002, killing seven people. The Health and Safety Executive ruled in May this year that the disaster was caused by failings in the maintenance regime. The company last month pulled out of rail maintenance contracts, saying it was no longer prepared to risk damage to its reputation.

The group is due to report its interim results tomorrow and investors will want to know that a smooth management succession is taking place. Shareholders have been concerned that the uncertainty may start to affect its ability to win new contracts.

Steve Norris has been approached by shareholders requesting he take on the position of chairman. He has previous experience, having briefly taken charge after the sudden death of its previous chairman, Lord McGowan, in May.

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