EWR looking for new CEO as Beth West nears end of interim role

Beth West, chief executive of East West Rail Co. Image: EWR
Beth West, chief executive of East West Rail Co. Image: EWR

The Department for Transport (DfT) has said they are looking for a new CEO for East West Rail Co, the organisation charged with delivering the East West Oxford to Cambridge rail project.

Ms West has been in the position for just 18 months after her predecessor Simon Blanchflower the company’s first CEO stepped down in April 2022. He’d been in the role for just over three years.

Read: East West Rail Company announces new Chief Executive Officer

The news of Ms West’s departure came after a job advertising the CEO position was advertised on EWR’s website. It calls for a ‘strong innovative leader to drive the company forward through to a full delivery plan…’

Mike Barlow of campaign group Bedford for a Re-consultation (BFARe), has said the move suggests issues within EWR Co.

Speaking to the Bedford Independent, he said: “It’s [EWR] actually a very poorly run organisation and appears to have a high turnover of staff.

“They don’t communicate with each other and they don’t communicate with their stakeholders well. The buck for that has to stop with the chief exec.”

Beth West came to EWR co at a time when there was much criticism of the project and how the plan for a rail route through Bedford was being communicated to local people.

She came to EWR from the City of London Corporation where she was interim director of open spaces. However, EWR was not her first role in rail.

Between October 2021 and July 2017, she was the commercial director for the now cancelled HS2 project, which according to her LinkedIn profile saw her in charge of the ‘delivery of the HS2 commercial strategy for all contractual relationships and enterprise-wide supplier relationship management.’

Bedford Borough’s Mayor Tom Wootton (Conservative) has called meetings set up by EWR for local people and the council as a “tick box” exercise.

He has also previously commented that Ms West “keeps her cards close to her chest.”

Read: Bedford Borough Mayor accuses EWR of holding meetings to just “tick a box”

Senior roles

Mr Barlow believes the departure of EWR’s CEO and several other senior-level jobs being advertised on the company’s website back up his theory that EWR has internal issues.

Alongside the CEO role, the company is also recruiting for several other senior positions.

  • Commercial Director
  • Finance Business Partner
  • Head of Commercial
  • Head of Planning and Scheduling
  • Land and Property Manager

However, a statement from EWR Co denies any issues and that Ms West’s departure has been planned since her recruitment.

“Having appointed an interim CEO in 2022, it has always been the plan to recruit for the role on a permanent basis once the Route Update Announcement was made and EWR Co was set on course to begin the Statutory Consultation next year, said a DfT spokesperson.

“Now is a suitable time to begin that process, and reflects the Government’s ongoing support for East West Rail.

“This process is another milestone for EWR Co as it continues its journey to deliver a transformational railway which will boost local economies and improve everyday lives.”

It’s also been confirmed that Ms West will remain in the role until a new CEO is appointed.

Update: This article was updated on 21 December 2023 at 15:38 to emphasise that Beth West was in an interim CEO role, and to add that she will be remaining in the role until a new CEO has been appointed. We also made an amendment showing that the quote regarding the CEO role originated from EWR not the DfT.