West Coast rail franchise: ‘Civil servants shouldn’t shoulder blame’
CIVIL servants were not the sole cause of the West Coast Main Line franchise fiasco, Scotland transport minister Keith Brown told MSPs yesterday, as he claimed that the impending ScotRail re-franchising process would be more robust.
• UK Government announced cancellation of West Coast franchise contest this week
• FirstGroup had won the deal, but this was challenged by Virgin Trains
A union also attacked the UK government for suspending three Department for Transport officials after the decision on the West Coast line was scrapped on Wednesday. The officials were alleged not to have accounted for inflation in the bids.
An independent review is due to report by the end of the month into the debacle, in which the contest won by Aberdeen-based FirstGroup against incumbent Virgin Trains – 49 per cent owned by Perth-based Stagecoach – will have to re-run.
Mr Brown said: “Without pre-empting the [UK government] review, I don’t think it credible to lay all the blame on civil servants.
“The department’s handling of the procurement process has been incompetent and shambolic.”
Infrastructure Secretary and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is seeking an urgent meeting with UK Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin over the franchise, which includes Glasgow-London and Edinburgh-Birmingham trains.
The Public and Commercial Services union, which represents one of the suspended officials, condemned the way they had been treated.
General secretary Mark Serwotka said: “The way ministers have sought to blame civil servants in the Department for Transport before any of the facts have been established has been deplorable, but sadly not out of character.”
Mr Brown said the Scottish Government would take account of the DfT review in its forthcoming competition for the ScotRail train operating franchise.
He said: “Yesterday’s announcement is focused solely on failings and incompetence within the Department for Transport, not [Scottish Government agency] Transport Scotland.
“Let me reassure parliament that while lessons will be learnt, our franchise procurement process is led by an expert team within Transport Scotland, freely able to draw on external expertise as and when required.
“No corners are being cut; no false economies made.”
Mr Brown said twice as long would be spent on the ScotRail franchise process than the West Coast one. This is due to start early next year, with the winner taking over in October 2014.
Mr Brown also called for the DfT to reconsider the SNP Scottish Government’s call for powers to consider a public sector bid for ScotRail, which UK ministers have already rejected.
The SNP would say only that if Scotland became independent, “future arrangements for the operation of the railway network would be determined by a future Scottish Government”.
Labour transport spokeswoman Elaine Murray described the West Coast franchise situation a “fiasco of jaw-dropping proportions”.
She called for the UK government to take over the service while another contest is held.
Alex Johnstone, her Conservative opposite number, attacked Mr Brown for “stirring up unjustified concerns over the continuity of the West Coast rail service”, when trains would continue uninterrupted after the current franchise ends in December.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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