Members of the Commons Public Accounts committee published a report today saying that a litany of screw-ups by civil servants as well as poor leadership were to blame for the botching of the West Coast rail contract last year, and that the fiasco will end up costing the UK taxpayer ‘at least £50m’, but probably more.
The chairman of the committee, Margaret Hodge said that, in the end, the cost ‘will be very much larger, because of underlying losses such as delayed investment and because of the effect on other rail franchisees.
She said: ‘The franchising process was littered with basic errors. Senior management did not have proper oversight of the project. Cuts in staffing and in consultancy budgets contributed to a lack of key skills.’ In a broader statement, the committee said: ‘We are astonished that there was no senior civil servant in the tem despite the critical importance of this multi-billion-pound franchise.’
The issue has sprung up since transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin scrapped the bidding process for the West Coast main line last year. It had been awarded to FirstGroup for £5bn, but after complaints from Virgin about the way in which the bidding process had been handled, the process was scrapped and Virgin’s existing franchise arrangement was extended until November 2014.
There are now fears, especially from the committee, that the same problems will plague the new High Speed 2 railway and also the Thameslink project.
See MT’s previous coverage of the West Coast main line debacle…