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Claims of anti-Virgin bias denied

The DfT has rejected accusations that there is anti-Virgin bias among its officials in the wake of the West Coast franchising fiasco.

It has also emerged that former transport secretary Justine Greening was informed about an ‘error’ in the franchise evaluation process soon after Virgin launched its legal challenge to the Government’s decision.

Responding to allegations about ‘anyone but Branson’ bias in the Department made in the Daily Mail, including claims about derogatory emails, a DfT spokesman said: “There is no culture of bias against Virgin at the Department for Transport and we have seen no evidence to suggest that there is.

“We are also not aware of any email exchanges that are derogatory towards Virgin or suggest that officials have acted in any way other than impartially and in good faith.”

Three officials – whose names have not been formally released – have been suspended over the errors that led to every re-franchising process being halted, and there may yet be more. Civil service union PCS attacked the Government for blaming civil servants “before any of the facts have been established” and said ministers were trying to dodge the blame.

The former head of the civil service, Lord O’Donnell, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday that many departments were suffering from skills shortages and a lack of top-flight talent.

The first of two reports into the shambolic events at the DfT is due before the end of the month.

There are growing expectations that Virgin will agree a deal with the Government to continue operating West Coast services after December 9, once its current franchise ends, as the mess is sorted out and a fresh franchising competition is held. Sir Richard Branson has said: “We believe the only sensible option is for us to keep it.”

One of the key errors in the DfT’s calculations was about the size of FirstGroup’s bond, which it would relinquish in the event of it not delivering on its promises. Virgin had claimed early on the amount was too low.

In late August, before she was reshuffled to the Department for International Development, Justine Greening ordered an investigation when she was informed about an error in the calculations.

Shadow transport secretary, Maria Eagle, said: “The prime minister should come clean on when he knew, and on any connection with the decision to conduct a wholesale clearout of Tory transport ministers before this fiasco became public.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email us directly at [email protected]


John   05/10/2012 at 13:27

This is a Complete and Utter Disgrace! I'm not the slightest bit surprised as "the Establishment" have had it in for Sir Richard ever since he won a grovelling Public Apology from Lord King late Chairman of BA. Greening should be fired over this as it happened on her watch. She is not fit to hold public office. The same goes for so many Politicians of all Political Persuasions. Integrity and Honesty count for nothing today, sadly.

Christopher George   05/10/2012 at 23:59

It is a great pity that the Transport Portfolio has been seen as a minor political position and has been held in low esteem by Governments of both major parties for many years. Transport is a vital part of life and it is about time that it was taken seriously in Government. Being Transport Minister is not the nadir of political life but a great opportunity to shine and make a huge difference to peoples wellbeing.

Tony At Basingstoke   06/10/2012 at 13:38

Oh my dear all these Branson hero worshippers! Does he give a toss for all his punters who make use of the Virgin branded products or services? Uhm! Lets face it he is a ruthless businessman who is like a spoiled child when he doesn't get his own way. Not all of us can fork out for the odd Carribean island can we? I remember his reaction when his amateurish bid to take over the National Lottery was quite rightly chucked out. Was that a biassed decision also? It appears that one his main business approaches, if he doesn't get his way, is to use of the media to continually for example to nag: BAA to get more Heathrow slots at the expense of other UK airlines; BT to provide him access to thier landlines at ridiculously low rental prices. Sky to give access to their film channels at giveaway prices and so on. I can imagine that this could cause resentment across the business world. In this latest episode we will have to wait and see if there was bias but, if there was, I guess it maybe because he has upset the establishment in some way or the other; a thing he seems to be good at.

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