Our bonus culture for executives is all wrong, says Crossrail chief

Mark Wild said it was not right that people were 'incentivised' for a project now billions of pounds over budget and years late

The boss of Europe’s biggest construction project says there is “something wrong” with the bonus culture for executives in charge of multi billion-pound feats of engineering.

Mark Wild, Crossrail chief executive, called for an “honest conversation” about not incentivising bosses for failure.

With the Government’s £106bn High Speed 2 project formally given the green light earlier this year and Boris Johnson promising to “build, build, build”, Mr Wild said lessons must be learnt on taxpayer handouts to executives.

He said: “This is where Crossrail has caused trouble. Crossrail’s lessons are pretty profound. Crossrail hasn’t achieved its targets, has it? It has failed. Yet people were paid bonuses.

“There is something wrong. There is something not right.

“Crossrail has brought it into sharp relief. It is clearly one of the key lessons: how do you incentivise the executives when something hasn’t gone right. We are billions of pounds over budget and we are years late. It can’t be right that people were incentivised for that.”

Crossrail, which spears east-west under London, was originally scheduled to open in December 2018, but has been blighted by delays. The original budget of £15bn is now nearing £20bn.

Mr Wild, former managing director of London Underground, was appointed in November 2018. He is declining to take a bonus for the second year running. “No bonuses for Mark Wild in the last two years, and that was my decision,” he said. “You can incentivise me on opening this railway. It is pretty clear what my target is.”

Analysis by The Telegraph earlier this year revealed that Crossrail executives shared a bonus pool of more than £6.5m during the last decade, sparking calls for the money to be clawed back.

This weekend it emerged that Andy Byford, Transport for London commissioner, was calling for £80m of urgent funding to avoid Crossrail being “mothballed”.

However, Mr Wild said he was “very confident” that a revised opening “window” of between January and June 2022 would be achieved.

A Crossrail source later clarified that this assumes that additional funding from Westminster can be agreed.

A mayoral source said “TfL has stepped forward and taken on full responsibility for delivery of the Crossrail project and, at the Government’s insistence that ‘London pays’, the current funding proposal will see the vast majority of these costs covered by Greater London Authority borrowing.

"This offer was made to ministers months ago and would mean London would cover more than its fair share of a project whose financial benefits will overwhelmingly go to the Treasury. It is inconceivable that a deal cannot be done on terms so generous for the Government.”  

A TfL spokesperson said: “TfL, the GLA and Government all continue to have discussions around the additional funding needed to complete the Crossrail project.”  

Meanwhile, HS2 bonuses began being paid before the project was formally given the green light by the Prime Minister earlier this year. Analysis by The Telegraph of the project’s financial statements reveal more than £200,000 has been paid in executive incentives over the last five years.  

HS2 chief executive Mark Thurston tops the Government’s senior officials “high earners” list, taking home base pay of £625,000.

Of the 517 people on the list, 48 are employed by HS2, with an average basic salary of £215,000. By comparison, some 29 officials from the Ministry of Defence are disclosed on the list of civil and public servants that earn more than £150,000.

A spokesman for HS2 said earlier this year: “Since Mark Thurston became CEO in 2017, HS2 Ltd has not operated outside of its annual budget.  

“The company recently completed a robust project cost estimate, which provided total clarity to ministers as to how much the project will cost. The Government took this new cost detail into account when deciding to go ahead with the project.”