Posted 24th August 2012 | 5 Comments

Greening urged to put West Coast on hold

Louise Ellman

Louise Ellman wants to hold an urgent inquiry into the DfT's decision

THE GOVERNMENT is being urged not to confirm the award of the Intercity West Coast contract to FirstGroup next week by the chairman of the cross-party Transport Select Committee.

Louise Ellman has written to transport secretary Justine Greening calling for the process to be delayed, giving time for the Department for Transport's calculations to be analysed.

The call comes amid growing protests about the result of the competition, which left the incumbent Virgin Trains in second place. Virgin has claimed that the business plan set out by First, which includes the payment £5.5 billion in premiums at net present value, is unachievable, while First insists its figures are 'robust'. Virgin had offered £4.8 billion.

An e-Petition created in support of Virgin has now attracted more than 98,000 signatures. When a e-Petition attracts at least 100,000 signatures the point at issue can then be debated by Parliament, although there is no guarantee.

Margaret Hodge, who chairs the Commons Public Accounts Commitee, also wants to put the details of the deal under scrutiny, but she has stopped short of trying to halt the process.

However her colleague Louise Ellman, who chairs the Transport Committee, wants the transport secretary to intervene.

In a letter to Justine Greening, Ms Ellman said: "As this has taken place during the Parliamentary recess, the Transport Committee has not had an opportunity to consider the matter. I intend to raise it with Committee Members at our first meeting on 4 September and to propose that the Committee explore these issues as soon as possible, provisionally at a public oral evidence session to be arranged for Tuesday 11th September. I expect that some Members will want to ask you about the West Coast franchise when you give oral evidence to us on the work of your Department on the following day.

"I understand that the final West Coast franchise documents are due to be signed by the Government on 28 August. I would ask you to consider delaying this for a short while to allow the Transport Committee to explore the matter first. I believe this would help to provide greater transparency and address the concerns that have been raised."

As things stand First is due to sign the contract next week after the expiry of a 14-day 'cooling-off' period, and take over the franchise on 9 December.

Reader Comments:

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

  • Boldfield, Thurles

    Back loading the franchise is a good trick you can make your profit and drop it when you start having to pay the high payments at the end. I am also very suspicious of the increase in services since the west coast is already near capacity especially at peak times when most people want to travel.

  • Roderick Brodie, Prestwick

    I feel transport secretary Justine Greening should just say "Sod the lot of You" and call on former FirstGroup employee Karen Boswell (now running the hugely successful ECML guardian train operator East Coast for DfT/Directly Operated Railways Ltd.) to take charge of the WCML. Why throw millions of pounds of taxpayers & rail users cash into the hands of obscenely greedy airline owners & second rate bus operators? The best value for the taxpayer is to run the railways directly by DFT's DOR. Every penny of profit should go back into the advancement of rail travel within the United Kingdom.

  • Billy Bell, Beith, UK

    Branson will personally lose out so he must be over the moon with all the people being herded towards the epetition. Virgin say the first group bid isn't deliverable, but provide no evidence. It turns out their bid was more risky in the first 10 years than first's bid.

    Hopefully he will follow up on his threat not to bid for any other franchise, which is a shame because before this debacle I would have liked to have seen virgin run the east coast services.

    Stick to flying planes Richie!

  • phil gaskell, manchester

    do you really think branson did not want to carry on the franchise? oh dear

  • Tony Pearce, Reading

    The whole thing smells. Did Branson really put in his highest bid ? Did he really want to get the franchise ? Branson is a very clever and astute businessman. He must have had a pretty good idea what his rivals were bidding. FirstGroup are not 'thickies' either. Their bid might have been upped a bit to try to beat Virgin but it won't have been unrealistic. Maybe Branson just realised that Franchises are getting more diffcilut to obtain and make money out of ?