Latest Rail News

24.08.12

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.” 

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com

Comments

Peterm. Lancaster On The WCML   24/08/2012 at 14:04

Where will the EXTRA £700m bid by FirstGroup come from. ( A MASSIVE hike in the cost of rail fares?). This will only drive customers away from what has been a growing, liked, service and business.

Andrew, Oxford   24/08/2012 at 14:11

What is a franchise? A local monopoly, no competition, no responsibility to the public who have paid tens of billions of pounds extra to support the "privatised" railway that cannot run an extra carriage on a train without government permission. The whole system is unfit for purpose.

Les F   24/08/2012 at 16:09

The fact that Virgin are so desperate to keep the franchise shows they were doing very nicely out of it and don't want to lose their gravy train. Remember their franchise started when we had no experience of franchising. They screwed everything they could out of the government during the West Coast route modernisation fiasco and exercised the Moderation of Competition Rules against the public interest, preventing other operators from providing the service they wanted to. Louise Ellman is right that we need transparency, but that means we need DfT to explain their decision, not that it was wrong. The franchise is not a complete monopoly because other operators run on the same tracks. I expect First will offer the same or better flexibility of fares to fill the seats. We should not be afraid of the new franchise just because we don't know how it will operate. Thankyou Virgin for introducing a level of customer service British Rail could only dream of, and goodbye.

Paddy   24/08/2012 at 21:40

What stable door time again! If there was any doubt at all that 1st Group could not deliver a service that at least matched if not improved on the Exempory service that Virgin provided then the franchise should have been left where it was. Having scrutinised the bids is it not a bit late; or should I say early to be havind doubts already!?

Mikeb   27/08/2012 at 20:40

Peterm. I get the feeling First Group might be intending to transform their business into a rail-only operation, as they are withdrawing from bus operations in various parts of the country, including Devon, Suffolk and Chester/Wirral - possibly saving quite a substantial amount of cash.

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