The National Audit Office (NAO) is to publish a report on the Government’s South East Flexible Ticketing (SEFT) programme that is expected to set out how the programme achieved ‘very little’ with nearly £40m of public money.
The NAO has told Transport Network that its report is due to be published this month, after Parliament returns from the Easter recess.
It will be what the NAO calls an ‘investigation report’. Transport Network understands that it will set out the timeline of what happened, the commitments that were made, how much money was spent when, and what it achieved.
A source familiar with the investigation has suggested that the report ‘may just let the facts speak for themselves’.
Last year the Commons Public Accounts Committee asked the NAO to investigate the programme after concerns were raised by the Campaign for Better Transport (CfBT) that there was ‘very little to show’ for the public money spent on the project.
The programme was originally billed as having a budget of £80m but was quietly dropped last year. The Department for Transport (DfT) has repeatedly declined to disclose what happened to the remainder of the budget.
CfBT chief executive officer Stephen Joseph told Transport Network: ‘The DfT spent approaching £40m on smart ticketing in London and the South East, yet commuters have seen little if any benefit from it. We hope that the NAO report will show what went wrong, but, more importantly, lessons for the future.'
He added: ‘As the department embarks on a fresh smart ticketing project, we want this to work better, and give passengers meaningful discounts and flexible tickets for part-time workers.’
Last February the then rail minister, Claire Perry, disclosed: ‘So far, £39.11m has been spent on the SEFT programme to develop a central back office for the entire rail industry to use and towards the costs to train operators of new infrastructure and upgrades’.
As Transport Network has reported, although the Government has repeatedly linked rail companies’ new smart cards to SEFT, most cards do not make use of the SEFT back office and cards do not allow interoperability between different operators. In many cases, smart cards have merely replaced paper season tickets with plastic versions.
A DfT spokesperson told Transport Network: ‘The SEFT programme has upgraded more than 450 stations to deliver smart ticketing and has successfully rolled out smart card season tickets on 5 major commuter routes into London.
‘The administration of smart card season tickets has now transferred to Rail Settlement Plan Ltd, part of the Rail Delivery Group. They will have a key role to play as smart ticketing is extended across the country. The Government wants every passenger to have the option of using smart ticketing by the end of 2018.’