HSE ready to give safety clearance to public-private plan for the Tube

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The Independent Online

Despite bitter opposition from Labour MPs and the London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, safety officials are to give a clean bill of health to the Government's public-private partnership plan for London Underground.

Experts at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) believe they will be able to approve the new regime by the end of the month. The news will severely undermine the campaign against the new partly privatised structure for the Tube, which was based on the allegedly dangerous nature of the reorganisation.

A spokeswoman at the HSE said: "We're not pushing for it, but we think it can work." Officials at the executive had been consulted on the plan at an early stage. It involves commercial companies taking 30-year leases to maintain the infrastructure. They believe no threat to passengers and staff exists. They are believed to argue that the critical factor is that London Underground would remain the single organisation in charge of day-to-day safety.

After a decision by the Government on Thursday to press ahead with the public-private partnership (PPP), Bob Kiley, London's transport commissioner, reaffirmed his belief yesterday that it would be unsafe. Interviewed on BBC Radio London Live, Mr Kiley claimed that the Prime Minster shared his misgivings.

"He expressed the same concerns that I have, privately," he said. "I think he agreed that the contractual regime was very complex and complicated. He had gone through some of the contract documents and compared them to other, simpler contract documents, which the Underground is involved with already."

Asked why, if the Prime Minister had doubts over the scheme, the Government was pressing ahead with PPP, Mr Kiley said: "They are, in this case, prisoners of a dogma – private good, public bad."

Bob Crow, assistant general secretary of the RMT rail union, said that HSE officials were the "same people" who gave the national rail network a clean bill of health before the Hatfield disaster. That led to an unprecedented level of emergency engineering work to ensure the network's safety, he pointed out.

"How can they agree to a new system at London Underground when Bob Kiley, the person responsible for running it, says it's unsafe? The HSE is involved in a paper exercise which bears no relation to reality. Our health and safety reps have certainly not signed the whole thing off. London Underground has not been consulted properly."

To defuse the issue before the election, the Prime Minister invited Mr Kiley to negotiate with the "preferred bidders" for the infrastructure leases. On Thursday, however, the Government's patience ran out and the talks broke down.

Mr Livingstone is now determined to fight the proposals in a High Court judicial review due on 23 July.