UK’s Under-Fire Rail Regulator Appoints Interim Chief Executive

Joanna Whittington to lead Office of Rail and Road after Richard Price steps down two months before end of his contract.

The rail regulator has confirmed a new interim chief executive after a year of intense criticism over its approval of Network Rail’s abortive five-year budget plan.

Joanna Whittington, who joined from the energy watchdog Ofgem in 2014, has been promoted to lead the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), replacing Richard Price, who has stepped down two months before the end of his contract.

During hearings into Network Rail’s spending crisis last year, MPs on the public accounts committee accused the regulator of being “asleep on the job” and demanded Price’s resignation.

Sources at the ORR said Price’s departure was not linked to the hearings. The former chief executive had been seconded from his civil service job at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on a five-year basis, due to end in March.

However, the future shape of the ORR is in question as reviews continue into the debacle that saw promised upgrades to major rail lines cancelled due to massive overspending, including the tripling of the budget for electrifying the Great Western mainline. The ORR had insisted that Network Rail could deliver its 2014-19 programme for less than its £38.3bn budget. An inquiry by Collette Bowe at the Department for Transport was heavily critical of the ORR, while an ongoing review into the financing of Network Rail by Nicola Shaw, head of the High Speed One rail line, could curb or alter the regulator’s role.

The ORR’s chair, Stephen Glaister, said: “The UK transport sector continues to expand. It’s essential that there is a well-governed regime to enable adequate provision for the needs of a growing economy. In this complex and ever-changing environment, Joanna brings a wealth of experience and expertise in her new role.”

Whittington said: “It’s a huge privilege to be appointed to this position at such a critical time in the development of Britain’s road and rail industries. ORR has an important role to play in protecting the interests of users and funders of rail and road networks now and in the future, and I look forward to leading this work.”

Whittington has been appointed on an interim basis, with recruitment for a permanent chief executive expected to begin in the summer when the regulator’s future becomes clearer.

Source: The Guardian

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