Cuts to the tube upgrade, renegotiated contracts on Crossrail, delays to major transport projects … who’d be transport adviser to London’s mayor? Well, Kulveer Ranger is and he’s confident he is on the right track
To say that Kulveer Ranger is Boris Johnson’s transport adviser is really to miss the point. In addition to his political background as former vice-chairman of the Conservative Party and holding advisory roles to MPs Alan Duncan and Dominic Grieve, the 35-year-old architecture graduate, a London-born Sikh, also used to be a hip hop/jungle DJ, occasionally enjoys listening to a bit of industrial heavy metal music (in German) and is well known for being a keen biker - “nothing blows the cobwebs away” like jumping on his Honda CBR600F motorbike and roaring down the streets of London, he says.
It’s a pretty diverse set of achievements, hobbies and past job titles to say the least - although Ranger says he isn’t quite the party-goer he once was: “I did the DJ-ing at university [UCL] and I lived with three other DJs. Sadly, I am at the stage now where I go to pubs and end up looking at my watch at 11pm and thinking ’I have to go home to bed now, I’ve got work in the morning’.” He laughs in a way that suggests he thinks his last comment makes him sound old even though he is one of the mayor’s youngest advisers. The need for a good night’s sleep, though, is perfectly understandable given that, as lead on policy direction for transport, Ranger oversees the relationship between the GLA and Transport for London to ensure that the mayor’s priorities for the capital’s transport network are delivered.
So many infrastructure projects have suffered because nobody championed them and so they went on life support for years, decades
The man in the know
The role not only has a huge impact on London and Londoners, but on construction. For Ranger is responsible for championing some of the capital’s biggest infrastructure projects as well as advising on cuts and renegotiating contracts on others. In short, he is the man the industry should be looking to for a steer on the future of transport and infrastructure development in London.
With so much gloomy news around - swingeing cuts to the tube upgrade, renegotiated contracts on Crossrail and delays to most of London’s major transport projects - you might think Ranger would be a little defensive. But he insists that the fact that these schemes are still in the pipeline at all should be seen as a victory: “When we had the results of the Comprehensive Spending Review, something momentous happened,” he says from his office at City Hall. “This government made a decision that said, even in times when we are making some of the biggest reductions in public sector spending, we are going to keep faith in infrastructure and transport projects.
“That is something that hasn’t happened before. So many infrastructure projects have suffered in the past because nobody championed them and so they went on life support for years, decades. Look at the Thameslink programme.
“I was desperate to avoid that happening to Crossrail and to the tube upgrades - things that are not just fundamental to London but to the UK economy. People might say ’well, I don’t think the government would have cut Crossrail or the tube upgrade’ but believe you me, everything was up for debate. We had to make the case for that vital investment to carry on, we had to explain ourselves, demonstrate the value for money. We had to convince the government to put its weight behind it; and that we won’t let it down.”
But the fact remains that the CSR knocked the city’s transport schemes for six. TfL is to cut £300m from the cost of the tube upgrade over the next four years by scaling back station improvements, deferring “non-essential” civils work and reviewing procurement. And Crossrail is set to shake up its delivery team led by Bechtel and CH2M Hill to find £1.4bn worth of savings.
This will have a direct impact on the firms delivering these schemes all the way down the supply chain. “We couldn’t just keep on going blindly,” insists Ranger. “Now that the settlement has come through following the CSR, we have to see what we can do. And how we can get more value for money so we can do more with less.”
As for the tube upgrade, Ranger is adamant that “scaling back” is the wrong phrase: “There have been huge problems with the PPP - it’s why Boris made that tough decision to close it down once and for all. We are now assessing the programme but there will be no scaling back on the upgrades. We will reprogramme them and there will be a different delivery timescale. Whatever Tube Lines’ programme was - it just wasn’t credible. We had no confidence in the 2012 delivery date.”
The new timescale remains vague - Ranger confirms that the hope is that the Jubilee line upgrade will be completed by early 2011, but beyond that he is reluctant to comment.
Moving on to Crossrail, Ranger’s response to the cuts and delays is that it could have been worse. “We have found £1bn of savings and we have shifted the date out by one year - but it’s not 10 years.” True, but doubts have been raised about how likely that one-year promise is, too. Indeed, Ranger admits that the one-year delay only applies to the central section.
“We’re targeting 2018 for that part and it could be 2019 before we see the rest. And that’s acceptable,” he says. “As long as it’s not 2029. This will be a case of months and years, not years and a decade.”
Onto the news then that Crossrail is renegotiating contracts to find the £1.4bn savings. Is this the thin end of the wedge with other major schemes in line for review? “Long projects like this live through peaks and troughs and so it’s only right that when all government departments are looking at budgets, we have looked closely at funding of Crossrail - and there may be changes,” he says. “I think that’s a realistic approach to the programme and yes, there is an overhaul and a review. Contractors will have to take a pragmatic view on this, and get on with delivering the scheme. If value for money is being delivered out of the programme, then contractors need to look at their budgets too.”
The construction industry may reel from the cuts to the major London transport schemes, but like any client, Ranger takes a tough stance: “Everybody knows that across the public sector there needs to be belt tightening, efficiencies, better value for money,” he says. “Some contractors have had a very good few years in terms of money being made. We’re now saying ’you have to work with us so we can see delivery and value’. We still want people to make money but the contractors need to understand that our finances are tight and they’ll have to get the work done within those finances.”
Immense amount of work
But Ranger urges the construction industry to take comfort from the fact that the future of infrastructure and transport projects looks bright - certainly compared to some other sectors. “We’re still in an era when we have the largest construction programme in London since the Second World War,” he says. “There is an immense amount of work to be done. We are in a period of unprecedented investment in transport - there are the Olympics, Crossrail, line upgrades, the East London line, High Speed Rail 2 is being looked at… And we issued the mayor’s transport strategy a few months ago, highlighting potential projects post 2017 - Crossrail 2, high-speed rail, further development of the overground network.”
Finally, then, with so much work coming along, what is it that impresses him as a client? His answer is short and to the point. “Deliver,” he says. “Deliver what you promise and demonstrate value for money. Those are the two crucial things.
“But London is the place. We’ll continue to invest, we’ll continue to upgrade and the work will be there for the people who want to do it.”
My favourite building … is the Hoover Building in west London that’s now a Tesco. Stunning
My favourite dish … I obviously love Indian food, but I love Chinese too so it would have to be chicken and black bean sauce with green peppers
My favourite song … it depends what mood I am in. Probably something like LL Cool J’s Momma Said Knock You Out
My favourite country … Spain
My favourite drink … a vodka martini, dry, with one olive
My favourite mode of transport … a motorbike
This article was orginally published under the headline ‘The DJ who’s getting London moving’