The Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) – the leading business association representing the interests of professional consultancies and engineering companies operating in the social and economic infrastructure sectors – has described the three-week consultation period for Network Rail’s five-year £47.9 billion strategic business plan as "ridiculous".
Managed by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), the consultation asked for feedback on nearly 1,800 pages published by Network Rail for Control Period 6 (which runs from 2019 to 2024), yet only provided 14 working days to respond. This amounted to over 130 pages a day, or £3.42 billion of the plans’ proposed rail investment, per day of the consultation.
The government's own principles on consultation, last updated in 2016, state that they should "last for a proportionate amount of time" and "facilitate scrutiny". They also state that "consulting too quickly will not give enough time for consideration and will reduce the quality of the responses".
The chief executive of ACE, Dr Nelson Ogunshakin OBE, says: "That we’re disappointed not to be able to properly scrutinise the £47.9 billion five-year strategic plan, is an understatement. This consultation is of huge importance to the future of our rail network and will impact on millions of passenger journeys every day.
"This isn’t the way to engage stakeholders, nor to produce robust and properly thought-through plans. We should have had three months, not three weeks, to respond. The time-frame provided was, for a document of this significance, ridiculous."
As a result of this short time-frame, ACE has only provided high-level feedback on Network Rail’s summary of CP6 strategic business plans, as well as "deep-dives" on two areas of the consultation –Network Rail’s Infrastructure Projects Division and the Anglia route.
ACE believes that Network Rail’s Infrastructure Project Division (IP), which oversees major infrastructure projects, should:
- Think of passengers as the ultimate external stakeholder, resulting in a more customer-focused approach;
- Reduce the amount charged based on the proposed headcount reduction which will significantly lower overheads;
- Look beyond the rail sector and strive to be better than similar organisations abroad and in other sectors; and
- Go into greater detail and share the lessons learned from CP5 for CP6, allowing for stakeholders to feedback.
The ORR's consultation ran from 13 February to 6 March 2018. View ACE's response.