MPs call for review of FirstGroup WCML win
The award of the West Coast Main Line franchise to FirstGroup should be delayed, until the bid has been scrutinised by MPs, the chair of the Transport Committee has stated.
Louise Ellman MP, chair of the committee, has written to transport secretary Justine Greening asking for the final sign-off of the deal to be postponed. The contract is due to be signed on August 28, but Ellman has requested a delay “to allow the Transport Committee to explore the matter first”.
She said: “I believe this would help to provide greater transparency and address the concerns that have been raised.
“This franchise will affect millions of passengers and last for up to 15 years. A great deal of public and private money is at stake. I have no fixed view on the matter and no preference for any of the bidders. My wish is simply to bring greater transparency to the process.”
Margaret Hodge, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, also confirmed her committee also planned to examine the bid. She said: “We will want to see that the department has learnt the lessons from its past failures to secure value for money.”
FirstGroup outbid its competitors by at least £700m and is due to operate the franchise for 15 years starting this December. Its win could mean the end for Virgin Rail’s business in the UK.
Founder of Virgin, Sir Richard Branson expressed his disappointment with the decision last week, and has suggested the DfT is repeating its mistakes of placing profit above deliverability. He is currently considering a judicial review into the matter.
An e-petition started earlier this week had 78,000 signatures on Thursday evening calling for the franchise to be handed back to Virgin.
Sir Richard said: “The Transport Committee is absolutely right to ask for a delay. The growing public concern about the franchise, and lack of answers from the Department for Transport, means that a pause for reconsideration is essential to let Parliament examine this very important issue.”
The DfT said the procurement process did not allow the involvement of the Transport Committee. A spokesman said: “We are in receipt of a letter from Virgin Trains which is a precursor to legal action. We are reviewing the correspondence. The Department is confident in the process it undertook and the decision made in awarding the West Coast franchise.”
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