Rail consultant paid pounds 565 a day on scrapped line

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The Independent Online
A management consultant on a government project charged pounds 565 a day, five days a week, for five years, running up a total bill to the taxpayer of pounds 678,000.

The figures were revealed in documents sent to the Independent which show an extraordinarily high level of billing by the project management and public relations consultants on the CrossRail scheme, a proposed link between Liverpool Street station in the east of London with Paddington in the west.

The Government announced earlier this year that the pounds 2.6bn project was being postponed for at least seven years, prompting doubts that it will ever go ahead.

Under parliamentary questioning, Sir George Young, the Secretary of State for Transport, admitted that the project has spent pounds 124m on external consultants. Most were designers, architects, engineers and surveyors. However, the papers sent to the Independent reveal that two firms of project-management consultants had 44 staff working on the scheme full- time for up to five years and were charging daily rates throughout that period. Many were public relations consultants; a couple liaised with Parliament.

The documents raise further questions about the Government using consultants, instead of the much cheaper civil servants. The firms' staff had their own offices at the CrossRail headquarters and were, effectively, full- time employees of the London Transport-run project.

The papers also reveal:

A management consultant who charged pounds 540 a day, or pounds 129,600 a year;

Two of his colleagues each cost pounds 450 a day, four cost pounds 400 a day, eight charged pounds 315 a day and four pounds 280;

CrossRail was paying for secretaries at pounds 195 a day;

A freelance PR consultant charged CrossRail pounds 400 a day, 52 weeks a year, and received free first-class rail travel to and from her home in Surrey.

According to a former employee on the project, there was not much for the consultants to do. Many of the advisers' staff had spent much of their day reading newspapers and drinking coffee.

Hiring consultants on a daily basis rather than on short-term contracts was, according to an internal project source, deemed necessary because the scheme could have been scrapped at a moment's notice, leaving the taxpayer to foot the bill for the outstanding terms on the contracts.

A London Transport spokesman said: "CrossRail made no secret of the fact it has used consultants to fulfil very specialised roles and has always achieved good value for money."

Glenda Jackson, Labour's spokeswoman on transport in London, will raise the matter in the Commons.

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