As I revealed before Christmas, Network Rail has agreed to pay for an independent inquiry into allegations of misuse of public funds that have dogged the publicly funded company for months. You can read the full story here. The state-funded track operator believes it has no case to answer but wants to “close this chapter” through a QC-chaired investigation. There will be a “statement of full exoneration” if the key allegations prove to be groundless. As I disclosed:
Chaired by QC Antony White, the inquiry will begin at an undisclosed London location by February. In a letter to Network Rail’s 100 members, Mr Haythornthwaite said the inquiry would focus on allegations against Iain Coucher, former chief executive. He told members he wanted a “focused and effective gathering of hard evidence” that would “establish the truth around specific allegations of fraud”.
Given that ministers are also reviewing the future of the company, which receives £4bn a year of taxpayers’ money – one option is splitting it into regional bodies – it’s fair to say that NR is under political pressure right now. (A new chief executive, David Higgins, starts work next month within days of the start of the inquiry).
That provides some useful context for the news that Sara Rajaswaren, former policy special adviser to Theresa Villiers – when she was shadow transport secretary – has been hired by the chairman of Network Rail as a strategic adviser. Rajaswaren is helping to prepare a report into “governance and accountability” which will be published for members later in the year.