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14.03.13

Cabinet secretary ‘very upset’ over role in West Coast mess – PM

Prime Minister David Cameron has said that cabinet secretary Jeremy Heywood “feels let down by the Department for Transport” over the West Coast franchising debacle – and that he has been asking transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin what is going on with the delayed Thameslink rolling stock contract.

Cameron told the cross-party liaison committee that Heywood (pictured above giving evidence earlier this year to another committee) had sought and received reassurances from the DfT that the process was all in hand.

He said: “Clearly, something went very wrong at the Department for Transport. I am personally very frustrated about the way in which that happened. I think you know that, as the process was going on, I was getting letters from participants and I was concerned about what I was reading. So I asked the Cabinet Secretary to examine whether it was being done properly. He in turn asked the Department for Transport for assurances about the process and received them. It turns out that the assurances he got were wrong, and the assurances that he gave me were wrong.

“Am I happy with what happened? No, I am absolutely not. That is not acceptable. That is why we had to stop the franchise. That is why we have had the two reviews. I think Sam Laidlaw did a good job. We have got to learn the lessons from that. That was a major error and a major problem that have to be properly dealt with.

As far as No. 10 is concerned, I did ask the Cabinet Secretary to investigate and ensure that it was being done fairly and properly.

“It wasn’t productive. The Cabinet Secretary is very apologetic about that and is angry about the fact that he feels he was let down by the Department for Transport. The upshot of it all is that a number of people at the Department for Transport have been investigated, one of the key people has left and the Department has been restructured. So action has been taken, but there are lessons that need to be learned.”

His remark has been interpreted as pinning some of the blame on Heywood for not being thorough enough in accepting those assurances.

Cameron was also asked about Siemens and Thameslink rolling stock.

He said: “Yes, I have been following this very closely. It is a very important contract, and we want to make sure that it is carried out properly. In the regular discussions that my officials and I have with the Department for Transport, Thameslink is very important; Crossrail is very important and a number of the road schemes that were embarked on are very important. No. 10’s role is to progress, chase and make sure that things are happening in the way that they must.”

Asked whether he has been asking why the deal has still not been concluded, he replied: “Yes, the things that are of great concern to me are the biggest contracts, the biggest things that will make a difference to our economic geography and our economy. Obviously, the Crossrail rolling stock is one, and the Thameslink contract and how we make sure that we learn the lessons of that competitive tender in which Bombardier lost out. I want to make sure that we continue with good train manufacturing in Derby. All such things are of concern. They are the sort of questions that I raise with Patrick McLoughlin, and that my officials raise with his all the time.

“I want us to expedite things.”

(Image: PA/PA Wire)

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