- Read the full interview on the RailReview website: Hendy means business at Network Rail
Sir Peter Hendy CBE has had a long career in public transport, not least in buses. He has a reputation as being a shrewd, no-nonsense getter-of-things-done, whose sharp intellect is closely coupled with grass roots understanding and intelligence that makes things happen.
You only have to look at the spectacular progress made during his nine years as London’s Commissioner at Transport for London. For anyone else, getting something like the orbital London Overground metro financed and built in just three years would be a career pinnacle… but not for Hendy.
He would be the first to mutter something dismissive and Anglo-Saxon under his breath at this, but his knighthood for delivering a near-perfect transport system during the 2012 Olympics was an astonishing achievement. Yes, of course we know it was a team achievement, but all great teams can only function under great leadership. And Hendy’s leadership was inspired, inspiring and very effective. Hence the knighthood. He commands respect and is popular - and it is very difficult to be both popular and respected.
His appointment at NR came at a crucial time. To say that his new organisation was ‘on the ropes’ last summer would be an understatement. It had crashed into 2015 on a tsunami of bad news at King’s Cross and Paddington, where Christmas engineering work had been chaotically mismanaged by NR’s Infrastructure Projects (IP) division. Massive reputational damage had been inflicted on a company already on the back foot.
Further pain followed as Great Western and northern electrification projects went badly wrong, as costs soared and work fell horribly behind as a consequence of various technical issues. On the GW project, it was perceived that costs had virtually tripled from £800 million to well over £2 billion, amid reports of track possessions where either no one showed up to actually do anything or only a single mast was installed.
Finally losing patience, the Government stepped into direct control of what was now seen as effectively an arm of the DfT, and dramatically ‘paused’ the Midland Main Line electrification. NR’s humiliation reached new levels.
Confusion reigned. While Government spokesmen and ministers relentlessly used the ‘paused’ argument, no one actually believed it, and exasperated contractors were confidentially briefed in presentations by very senior NR managers where it was made clear that “the MML scheme isn’t paused - it’s dead”.
This was the supply chain chaos and reputational meltdown into which the pugnacious but capable Hendy was parachuted by government.
Hendy on… Devolution
“If it’s the right thing to do then we should do it. So when Mark proposed to the board that we would accelerate devolution, we all agreed that it was the right thing to do. It fits perfectly well with a recent letter from the Chancellor that he actually wanted us to accelerate devolution. So that was actually a request from the Chancellor.
“It also fits with the three tenets that Nicola has at the core of her report, which is devolution. I think it’s the right thing to do.
“I also think it’s a good thing that it’s being done under the umbrella of a much stronger drive to produce better operational performance. My observation is that Network Rail, over successive managements, has had some wildly different policies. But by and large, I’m now seeing a really strong and continuing attempt to run the railway better, which is what Phil Hufton is working hard to do.
“The context of devolution is that you don’t stop that performance drive, you help it by giving people greater empowerment.”