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01.11.12

MPs probe McLoughlin and Rutnam over franchising failings

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin and DfT permanent secretary Philip Rutnam faced MPs on the transport select committee yesterday afternoon, receiving a serious grilling over the West Coast franchising failures. 

“Mistakes which were made should not have been made,” McLoughlin said. “It is very regrettable and very serious for the Department.”

The MPs were concerned at the apparent lack of experience and stability at the top of the DfT – Rutnam and McLoughlin have just seven months’ experience in the department between them – but Rutnam insisted that at the levels immediately below him, there was real institutional experience. 

He said the suspensions of three civil servants as part of the inquiry implied “no judgement” on them and was purely precautionary. 

There was also much debate over the problems with the SLF, the subordinated loan facility, with MPs saying that civil servants got their sums wrong by “orders of magnitude” – which Virgin spotted earlier than they did. 

It is reported that the alleged ‘anyone but Branson’ email or emails – suggestive of an anti-Virgin bias in the DfT – are being searched for as part of the reviews into what went wrong. 

Committee chair Louise Ellman MP said ahead of the hearing: “It is astonishing that the Government has had to cancel the West Coast Main Line franchise competition and delay other competitions. Just last month the Secretary of State told us that he was content with how the DfT had handled the WCML competition and that Virgin's challenge to the outcome would be defended robustly. 

“I expect the Department's review of what went wrong to be available by the end of this month and we will want to examine that very carefully. We will also want to know how much this episode has cost the taxpayer, what lessons will be learnt, and what will be the wider implications for franchising. In addition, I expect the Committee to look closely at the Government's review of franchising when it is published at the end of this year.” 

The session can be watched here: www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=11679 

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

(Image: PA Wire)

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