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Friday, 24 October 2014

Department blasted over contract role

A GOVERNMENT department was today slammed for being “irresponsible” over its role in the collapse of the £5bn West Coast Mainline rail contract.

A committee of MPs said the Transport Department had embarked on an “ambitious, perhaps unachievable” reform in haste, and claimed ministers and senior officials were lied to.

FirstGroup was told it had won its bid to take over the franchise from Virgin Trains, but the decision was scrapped after the discovery of “significant technical flaws” in the way the procurement was conducted.

Virgin has now been told it can run the service until November 2014, with the fiasco costing taxpayers over £40m.

The mistakes came to light after bidder Virgin Trains, which had run the West Coast Mainline since 1997, launched a legal challenge against the decision.

A government-commissioned report led by businessman Sam Laidlaw last month gave a damning indictment of how the competition was handled.

Three members of staff at the DfT were suspended over the episode.

The Transport Committee said in its report today embarking on the reform of franchising on the UK’s most complex piece of railway was “irresponsible” and needed greater senior executive involvement.

“A more direct description of what happened is ministers and senior officials were lied to about how the outcome of the franchise competition had been reached,” said the report.

“We cannot categorically rule out the possibility officials manipulated the outcome of the competition not only to keep First Group in the running for as long as possible, as Mr Laidlaw suggested, but to ensure that First got the contract.’’

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