Transport chief's promotion blocked

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

THE GOVERNMENT has left London Transport virtually leaderless after ministers blocked the promotion of the deputy chairman, Alan Watkins - a former critic of government transport plans - to the top job.

There were two people shortlisted for the 200,000 chairman's post - Dr Watkins and an outsider. When the latter dropped out after being selected, the Treasury apparently blocked Dr Watkins' appointment due to concern about his involvement in LT's campaign for more investment in London Underground.

Dr Watkins, also chief executive of London Transport and chairman of London Buses Ltd and London Underground Ltd, is thought to have angered ministers by opposing the deregulation of London Buses, which was subsequently dropped last year despite being part of the Conservatives' election manifesto.

London Transport managers are angry at the move because Dr Watkins, a former managing director of both Lucas Aerospace and Hawker Siddeley was appointed by the Government only 18 months ago to provide the kind of private sector expertise which has helped the organisation become much more efficient. One said: 'Dr Watkins has become very popular within LT and he was being groomed for the top job. We can't understand why this has happened.'

The term of the current chairman, Sir Wilfrid Newton was supposed to finish at the end of this month, but he has agreed to continue on a part-time basis until a successor is found.

Yesterday Dr Watkins said: 'I have reluctantly decided to withdraw as a possible candidate for chairmanship and am discussing with the Department of Transport the terms of my departure from LT.'