Posted 24th August 2012 | 6 Comments

MPs to scrutinise West Coast bid

THE PUBLIC ACCOUNTS COMMITTEE of the House of Commons is to investigate the controversial Intercity West Coast bid, in which the present operator Virgin came second place to FirstGroup. The contract is due to be finally signed off next week.

PAC chairman Margaret Hodge said there would be two parts to their investigation.

She explained: "We will want to see that the Department has learnt the lessons from its past failures to secure value for money.

"We have expressed concerns before about the Department’s capability in predicting accurate passenger numbers and reflecting the impact of economic conditions on train operators' revenue. Questions over their capability have now been raised again and whilst we welcome healthy competition it is essential that the Department has exercised proper due diligence.

"In the short-term the Public Accounts Committee can look at the processes adopted by the Department to respond to our previous recommendations, such as strengthening its testing of bidders’ assumptions. In the long term we can make a more rigorous assessment of whether the franchise is delivering a good deal for the public."

The decision may also be facing a legal test. The contract is due to be signed on Wednesday of next week, after a 14-day 'cooling-off period'. Virgin has said it has been examining the case for a judicial review into the award, and it now has until Tuesday to decide whether to make a preliminary application to the High Court.

FirstGroup, meanwhile, has been defending the award. The head of FirstGroup Rail, Vernon Barker, told Railnews that the figures produced for the bid are 'robust'. He revealed that mobilisation teams have now started work preparing for the handover day, which is 9 December.

Reader Comments:

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

  • Claydon William, Norwich, Norfolk

    What on earth makes us all think that the Public Accounts Committee led by Margaret Hodge is anywhere near competent in the first place to analyse this matter.

    These people have been responsible for the waving through of billions of pounds worth of mis-spent wasted public money, and their competence has to consequently be called into question.

  • C.M.Wade, Grimsby

    It would be interesting to find out what tax payers money has been spent on the National Rail Infrastructure and Rolling Stock since Privatisation, and how that compares with what was spent on BR in a similar period. As a fierce opponent of privatisation since it was first mooted I'm not surprised at the current situation Re First Trains and Virgin ( Neither of which operators I have any great regard for, as indeed I haven't for Stagecoach) one should only look at the situation in the USA in the late 1950's early 1960'swhere the Railways always were privately operated and where the passenger services Had to be nationalised

  • John Elvin, Buckingham

    Does Steve Alston really believe First Group would have handled his specific grievance situation any better given their poor customer satisfaction rating at FGW?

    Better the devil you know....

  • Steve Alston, Crewe

    Virgin Rail are PATHETIC. They are using station departure screens (CIS) to advertise their 'keep our franchise' petition, at the expense of accurate passenger information.

    Whilst I despise FirstGroup with every bone in my body, I have no time for a company like Virgin who for years they have refused to recognise other rail companies on the UK network. They often left their own customers stranded - whilst staff like me from other companies ended up picking up the pieces afterwards.

    This happened on Christmas Eve a year back, with a crowd of abandoned passengers at Manchester Piccadilly. I was the last train company employee out of the station, two hours later than my finish time thanks to the total lack of care shown by Virgin.

  • Billy Bell, Beith, UK

    Virgin rent the trains from a leasing company and the government have spent billions on upgrading the west coast infrastructure. Virgin just happened to be the operator at the time.

    Costly, lengthy legal wrangles seem to be the order of the day nowadays.

  • john greaves, northfrodingham driffield east yorkshire

    virgin rail has done a good job and supplied trains so they should keep the franchise