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19.12.12

Ministers ‘not to blame’ for West Coast errors – Laidlaw

Ministers and senior civil servants were not to blame for the West Coast franchising fiasco, Sam Laidlaw told the Select Committee yesterday.

Laidlaw, chief executive of Centria and a DfT non-executive board member, asked by the transport secretary to investigate what went wrong, said senior civil servants were kept apart, which meant that there was ‘no-one to escalate concerns to’. Laidlaw called for the policy of anonymising bids to be scrapped.

The report was commissioned by the DfT following the emergence of significant errors in the calculation of financial guarantees by bidders for the West Coast contract.

Laidlaw said ministers had to “satisfy themselves that due process is being followed … and that it has good integrity and good transparency”. He said: “What happened here did not conform with those principles – but not for lack of questioning from the ministers.

“This was a sequence of errors. There was no ownership and no obvious route to escalate concerns. This process had to be done against the clock and that sense of urgency made people more reluctant to escalate concerns.”

Transport committee chair Louise Ellman MP said: “It’s astonishing that nobody was in charge and no senior officials were present when critical decisions were made, with disastrous consequences.

“I think the committee has exposed the appalling inadequacies of the department, the way it was structured and the way it was run. Ultimately the minister has to be responsible for the running of the department.”

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