Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Campaigners say ministers are being deliberately misled over cost of Thames Crossing

CAMPAIGNERS have accused senior civil servants at National Highways and the Department for Transport (DfT) of misleading ministers about the costs and purported benefits of the Lower Thames Crossing (LTC), by using figures that are two years out of date.

In the Accounting Officer Assessment [1] for the scheme which was published today (Friday 6 February) , the DfT’s Permanent Secretary and National Highways’ Chief Executive say they are basing their assessment on the Outline Business Case (OBC) for the scheme, which has not been updated since 2020.

A statement from the Thames Crossing Action Group says senior officers claim the Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR), which is used to guide ministers on the value for money of the scheme, is 1.46. In fact the most recent assessment of the scheme by National Highways shows the BCR for the scheme has shrunk to 1.22 [2].

It continues: “Accounting Officer Assessments are supposed to offer guidance and transparency to Ministers for good decision-making over significant spending decisions.

“The failure of Government departments to produce adequate AOAs was highlighted recently by the Public Accounts Committee [3].

“TCAG wrote to the DfT in November 2022, and to the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee and the Treasury Officer of Accounts in December [4] highlighting that the AOA for the LTC had not been published. However, the AOA for the LTC published today shows that instead of using the latest assessment of the scheme produced for the examination in October 2022, National Highways have relied on an outdated business case dated 2020.”

Action group chair Laura Blake, said: “When it comes to decisions about spending huge amounts of taxpayers’ money ministers should have adequate, accurate, and up to date info.

“Clearly this is not the case with the proposed £10bn+ Lower Thames Crossing.

“It is disgraceful that misleading info is being signed off and presented to Ministers for a project that is neither fit for purpose nor value for money.”

The action group will be writing to the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office (who are conducting an inquiry into the rising costs of road schemes [5]) to highlight that misleading figures have been used, and the benefits of the scheme have been exaggerated with ministers potentially misled.

Points if reference:

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/government-major-projects-portfolio-accounting-officer-assessments/lower-thames-crossing-accounting-officer-assessment-december-2022

[3] PAC report https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/31757/documents/178775/default/

[4] TCAG letter t PAC and TOA https://www.thamescrossingactiongroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/Accounting-Officer-Assessment-for-LTC-Ref-TCAG-PAC-TOA-221230.pdf

[5] https://committees.parliament.uk/call-for-evidence/3003/

Thames Crossing Action Group (TCAG) represents those who are opposed to the proposed Lower Thames Crossing, and more info can be found on www.tcag.info.

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