MPs call for chance to scrutinise more DfT appointments to transport bodies
Transport committee approves fomer airport chief as rail regulator chair
MPs on the Transport Select Committee have said they want to be given greater oversight of appointments to transport regulators and agencies.
In a report approving the appointment of former London City Airport chief executive Declan Collier as the next chair of the Office of Road and Rail, MPs said the Department for Transport should give them the chance to question secretaries of state Chris Grayling's nominees for other roles .
The chair of the ORR, the regulator that oversees the rail network and the work of Highways England, is the only position where candidates must undergo a pre-appointment hearing by the transport committee. The MPs said posts including the chairs of the Civil Aviation Authority, Network Rail and HS2 should be subject to hearings to boost ministers’ accountability and public confidence in the process.
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The Cabinet Office has accepted the recommendations of a Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee report published in September, which called on it to come up with a set of principles for when pre-appointment hearings are needed, and to use this to update the list it maintains of public posts that are subject to hearings.
Tthe transport committee said the DfT should then discuss with it which appointments should be given hearings.
The MPs added that they would seek to question candidates for any public appointments “where we feel there is a case for scrutinising the secretary of state for transport’s choice of preferred candidate”, whether or not the government agreed that the post required scrutiny.
The committee also criticised the way it was not given a chance to question Stephen Glaister, the current ORR chair, because he was initially appointed on an interim basis. As such it has not conducted a pre-appointment hearing since interviewing Glaister’s predecessor Anna Walker in 2009, a situation it described as “regrettable”.
“In future [DfT] should ensure that its plans for replacing key appointments enable parliamentary scrutiny of those candidates. If an interim appointment is made, then we should be invited to hold a pre-appointment hearing before that appointment is confirmed,” it said.
In its report, the committee said Collier will face a “sharp learning curve” as he has experience neither of the rail and road sectors nor of acting as a regulator. Before leading London City Airport Collier was chief executive of Dublin Airports Authority, having previously worked at the oil and gas giant ExxonMobil.
However, it said this would not prevent him from carrying out the role, as long as the board he chairs has “sufficient breadth of experience” to support him. He may also have to dedicate more than the two days per week set out in the job advert to the role to allow him to get up to speed with unfamiliar territory, it said, and to prioritise his role as chair over other commitments.
“We are satisfied that Declan Collier has the professional competence and personal independence required for the post,” its report said.
“We are convinced that the candidate’s extensive experience in other sectors, at an executive and board level, will enable him to lead the board in giving strategic direction, oversee the executive, and represent the organisation to stakeholders," it added.
Collier’s learning curve will be especially steep given his appointment has coincided with the departure of ORR’s chief executive, Joanna Whittington, the MPs said. John Larkinson, its director of railway markets and economics, has been interim head of the regulator since Whittington left to take a director general post at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in early October.
Collier said he would seek to ensure Whittington’s replacement had “experience of economic regulation, a strategic mindset, and strong leadership skills”, and was “willing and able to engage positively with the board”, the report said.
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