Posted 12th October 2011 | 4 Comments

NAO says no to Thameslink probe, as unions lobby MPs

THE NATIONAL AUDIT OFFICE has decided that the government's decision to award the Thameslink rolling stock contract to Siemens rather than Derby-based Bombardier did not break procurement rules. The news came as unions lobbied Parliament, but now the last hopes of an official change of heart rest on a judicial review.

The NAO has been investigating the circumstances surrounding the £1.4 billion order for about 300 new trains, following claims that the Department for Transport was wrong not to take the wider economic effects of placing such a large contract with an overseas supplier into account.

The transport secretary Philip Hammond has maintained consistently that the rules for evaluating the bids from Siemens and Bombardier were set out by the previous Labour government and that there would not be a rethink, despite protests that as many as 15,000 jobs could have been put at risk by his decision.

Bombardier has already announced that it is almost halving the Derby workforce by shedding 1,400 jobs, although around two-thirds of these are agency staff on short-term contracts. However, many of these jobs would probably have been lost even if Bombardier had won the Thameslink contract, because several other orders for new trains are being completed at Derby this year.

Before today's Parliamentary demonstration, RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “The battle for Bombardier and the future of train building in the UK remains well and truly on. We don’t want warm words from the Government about manufacturing jobs and apprenticeships - we want them to get off their backsides and intervene now to save the ten thousand jobs under threat from the Bombardier betrayal. They will pay a political price of huge proportions across the East Midlands if they fail to take this issue seriously while there is still time.

“The Thameslink contract has been a fit up from start to finish. RMT has shown that the government spent ten times as much for advice from lawyers and accountants than engineers with more than £20 million spent on management consultants to oil the wheels of the Bombardier stitch up."

The union UNITE is still intent on challenging the decision by a judicial review, with support from Derby City Council, but Mr Hammond said recently that he now expected to confirm the Siemens deal early in the New Year.

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • MikeB, Liverpool

    There has never been any chance that the DfT were going to reverse their decision to order the new Thameslink trains from Siemens and no doubt, the bosses at Bombardier have since come to terms with the fact that their bid was not accepted. Hopefully, for sake of the workforce at Derby, they will be more successful when it comes to Crossrail and Pacer/Sprinter replacements.

  • Philip Russell, Carlisle, United Kingdom

    I thought Philip Hammond was doing a pretty good job as transport secretary ,but to try and blame the awarding of a contract well over a year after his own government has been in power, on the previous labour administration must rank as one of the most stupid and incompetent comments i have ever heard from any transport minister ,does he think we are all stupid , the voters of the Derby area will not forget this at the next election .

  • Geoff Steel, Northampton, United Kingdom

    Whilst I sympathise with the plight of Derby on the proposal to award this contract to Siemens maybe it is a simple fact that the offer on the table from Siemens is actually the better of the two.

    What IS wrong is the "stop-go" policy of governments in not having a long term rolling programme of new build and mid life refurbishment of our train and tram fleets that could see a steady stream of work at say Derby. This would allow a company like Bombardier (and its suppliers) to plan ahead with confidence and run a more cost effective production line with constant employment levels and a steady output rather than the hugely inefficient peaks and troughs that we tend to have due to the lack of a planned approach to train procurement. This is where the core problem lies in my view, and not simply over the award of the Thameslink contract itself.

    If we took a similar approach to the long term electrification of the system then again we could generate cost effective teams that could move from one project to the next saving the huge start up and shut down costs that blight our industry and its suppliers.

  • Graham, Hook

    Wasn't Labour (i.e. The party that unions have the most sway with) in power at the start and they only weren't the party to announce the result because an election got in the way.
    If it was such a "fit up" why didn't the unions bully their political "partners" to ensure that it was not or is it just because they can see a way of political point scoring that they have now jumped on this band wagon?
    I do however agree that the government should have taken on board the wider economic benefits of the contract, however this is not the first contract that has been awarded to an overseas company when a British company was able to do the job. The unions should have raised this issue years ago, not just when it is going to hurt British workers when there is little other work for them. However if they raised it years ago it would have been a negative story for Labour - maybe it is because the unions and Labour are only after their own interests and not the interests of those at the bottom.