Branson is Greening with envy as West Coast deal confirmed

In a blow to the Virgin boss, transport secretary Justine Greening has signed off on the controversial FirstGroup franchise for the West Coast rail line.

by Rebecca Burn-Callander
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
Greening has brushed off Sir Richard Branson’s attempts to launch an inquiry into the terms of the FirstGroup franchise deal, saying simply, ‘We have to take the bid that’s the best value for taxpayers.’ She has also closed the book on any further discussion on the matter.

Branson will not be pleased. He believes that FirstGroup’s £6.5bn-7bn bid for the new contract, in comparison with Virgin's £6bn, will lead to ‘almost certain bankruptcy’. This weekend, the billionaire even offered to run the service for free for several months while MPs investigated the figures.

He’s not alone in opposing the deal. More than 100,000 members of the public have signed an online petition in protest of FirstGroup bid, demanding that Virgin Trains retain the franchise. But the lady Greening is not for turning.

And she’s making herself rather unpopular elsewhere too. The debate over the new runway at Heathrow continues to bubble away, with backbencher Tim Yeo recently challenging David Cameron to prove whether he’s ‘man or mouse’ on the issue. Greening has weighed in, taking the opposite stance to Yeo and telling Radio 4 ‘s Today programme that expanding Heathrow was ‘not right’ for the UK.

At least London Mayor Boris Johnson will be pleased. She’s siding with him and calling for a new airport to be built on the Thames Estuary.

If Greening gets her way over the new aviation hub, MT can think of one way she can make it all up with Branson. Offer Virgin Atlantic first dibs on landing slots at the new airport, of course…

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