Steven Norris is likely to become permanent chairman of the troubled rail contracting group Jarvis if he fails to win next year's London mayoral election.
Jarvis, the company at the centre of the Potter's Bar rail crash inquiry, confirmed that the former Tory transport minister had succeeded Paris Moayedi as chairman on an interim basis. It indicated he was in a strong position to do the job long term if his mayoral bid proved unsuccessful.
Mr Norris will be paid £100,000 a year as non-executive chairman and will devote two days a week to the job. Mr Moayedi will receive a pay-off of about £500,000.
The appointment of Mr Norris has provoked criticisms that he will have a conflict of interest by being Conservative candidate for mayor and chairman of Jarvis, which has a one-third stake in the London Underground PPP contractor Tubelines. Jarvis made an £8.4m profit on Tubelines in the first half and expects to make annual returns of more than 30 per cent on its investment in the consortium.
Mr Norris said: "There is an enormous difference between being candidate and being mayor. There would only be a conflict if I am elected but in that case I would resign as chairman of Jarvis. I intend to be elected. You'd be surprised. Go and put a bet on."
He also said that if there were another derailment on one of the Underground lines maintained by Tubelines before next June's mayoral elections, then he would speak out as himself: "I think Londoners would understand you can't just swap hats and would judge themselves whether the candidate was being sensible or evasive."|
Mr Norris dismissed suggestions that his "colourful track record in the tabloids" made him an unwise choice as chairman and denied he was "playing both ends against the middle" by having a foot in both the company and the mayoral race.
Jarvis also appointed the Nationwide chairman Jonathan Agnew as a non-executive and intends to recruit at least one more non-executive before next June to give it a choice of candidates for chairman.
The company has been maintenance contractor on track involved in several rail accidents and last month gave up all its maintenance contracts with Network Rail.
But Kevin Hyde, the chief executive, said Jarvis was well-placed to increase its £300m of track renewal work. He also said Jarvis was moving into rail freight and had secured a first contract with Scottish Coal. Pre-tax profits for the six months ended September rose by 77 per cent to £33.7m.