Leaked memo warns of safety concerns over Tube sell-off

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A leaked memo from rail watchdogs revealed "growing concern" about the preparations for the part-privatisation of the Underground yesterday, reigniting the row between London Mayor Ken Livingstone and the Government over its plan to sell off the system.

A leaked memo from rail watchdogs revealed "growing concern" about the preparations for the part-privatisation of the Underground yesterday, reigniting the row between London Mayor Ken Livingstone and the Government over its plan to sell off the system.

The Mayor, who has threatened to take the Government to court over the issue, used the disclosure of the memo by the Railway Inspectorate, part of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), to renew his demands for John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, to abandon the plans.

"This letter confirms Londoners' worst fears about the possible consequences for safety with the planned break-up and part-privatisation of the Tube," he said. "The Government should abandon this scheme and allow London to decide the future of the Tube."

But Mr Prescott sought to calm fears over passenger safety, pledging that the scheme would not go ahead if the concerns continued. The part-privatisation of the Tube is due to begin in April. "Should people feel concerned? No. There's proper and adequately high levels of safety" he said. He also ordered a meeting between London Underground and the HSE to address the concerns and provide him and Mr Livingstone with a full report.

Labour leaders opposed Mr Livingstone becoming the party's candidate for Mayor partly because of his views on the plans. But his Tube policy helped in his subsequent independent election campaign, although the Mayor has no power to stop the Government sell-off.

In the leaked letter, Stanley Hart, the head of the inspectorate, warned that it had "consistently expressed a growing concern that it does not have full confidence in LUL [London Underground Limited] systems since shadow running commenced". Shadow running is the term for the organisational changes made to prepare for part-privatisation next year.

The letter said their concerns included "safety issues with potentially serious consequences", adding: "There is breakdown of local management control."

The Department of Transport said the part-privatisation "will not go ahead until the final safety case for it is acceptable to HSE."

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