Ken Livingstone’s rant against the HSE and its “barmy bureaucrats” inspired a host of responses from readers. Many of them, against their better judgement, actually agreed with the London mayor’s angry attack on the executive. Plus readers respond to the collapse of Metronet.

“I’m not sure who will be barmier – Ken or Boris.” So sums up reader Tim Oakley to the beloved London mayor’s latest tirade, this time against the unlikely source that is the Health & Safety Executive. According to Livingstone the HSE’s concerns about building houses near so-called ‘hazardous installations’ ie. gasometers, is way over the top and threatens the development of 16,000 homes in the capital.

Well some of you are right behind the newt lover. Step forward Darrall, who rails against bureaucracy:

“While most of the time certain H&S matters are vital, health and safety is often used as a tool by some as a bureaucratic instrument. Life is not without risk and provided the risks have been adequately assessed then there are no reasons why this project should not occur.”

Ron Hind adds his support:

“I am no fan of Ken but he is at least standing up for what he believes in, and a desire to see it through. There is no doubt that we are all being stiffled by bureaucracy, and barmy rules that serve little purpose, other than to make life difficult for individuals and companies alike.”

The case against is put by Alastair Stewart (surely not the former business editor of our esteemed magazine?). Says Alastair:

“Is there no end to the cheap, intemperate jibes this Barmy Bolshevik will aim at the building industry? Can you imagine Michael Bloomberg coming out with such brainless public comments as this and his toe-curling outburst on Metronet? Londoners should kick out this embarrassing liability asap.”

John is even more succinct:

“Go back to sleep Ken, or to Cuba!”

Of more immediate and pressing concern to Livingstone this week is the plight of the London Underground modernisation following the collapse of tube PPP consortium Metronet last week. Reader roadcred claimed that this event was

“proof that you cannot pass an unquantifiable risk to a third party. What are costs are costs. Metronet are using exactly the same personnel and subs as LU were before them. It is all dressed up as magic but the big problem with PPP/PFI is that the same inefficient operatives and staff are employed because of TUPE legislation.”

And Michael offered a fascinating insight into just how murky and labyrinthine it is to work on underground infrastructure:

“I've tendered and run work on Rail, Underground and signaling for years.. At an internal meeting in 1995, asking why millions of pounds worth of daywork sheets had not been filled in, the legal department told me that they deemed the effort to do so an administrative burden.

My manager assured me that this was ok as it was not "real money" and we'd still get paid by another route. We did for a while but the firm went bust a few years later, it was a consistent pattern.

In another meeting in 1997 tendering £150,000 (cost) of work on the Heathrow Express link, the LAD (purchaser's damages for not giving the railway back on time) was set at around 32,000 a minute. I priced the risk of overunning at a million pounds, making 1.15m for the job. The procurers (Railtrack at the time) thought this was a crazy sum, but I recall their faces when I suggested they reconsider the damages clause - total incomprehension. A board member on our (supply) side said he had it sorted out but it turned out that we just took on the risk without pricing it. Consistent combination.

In 2000 I was asked to substantiate a 1m signalling claim, freelance. I found that it was a 10m claim. The people in the hole saw their way out and I was thanked. 6m was paid. The firm still went bust, consistent combination.

I applied for a job with Metronet around five years ago. Didn't get it, because of my rate. Just as well really, I wouldn't have been allowed to do my job there and that always gets stressful for me, but at one major underground undertaking around that time I was asked the question "how many months and how many millions will it cost us to terminate a contract with this incompetent escalator supplier?".

Answering "I've spoken to them and they admit they've messed up and will walk away for nothing, here's the letter our legal department says is ok to administrate that"; I saw my contract terminated summarily.

He concludes:

“I cannot see how this will change, can you?”