WILL THE NEW TRANSPORT SECRETARY HALT THE ROT?
Any doubts over Labour questioning this Government’s dubious process for awarding rail contracts have surely evaporated following this week’s revelations about the West Coast Main Line fiasco.
I mean, seriously, how much more evidence do we need of the Government’s utter incompetence?
At least £40m will be wasted reimbursing the four West Coast Main Line bidders, and all because of seemingly basic errors in the process around awarding the contract. It beggars belief.
But the most incredible thing is that the flawed decision to award a £5bn contract to FirstGroup so nearly slipped through the net.
A number of MPs, including myself, have been chasing answers on this very issue for months.
So why did the Government not do anything about it? Why did it take the threat of a legal challenge from Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Trains to force a rethink?
The Transport Secretary for most of that period was Justine Greening, somebody I have persistently lobbied for answers on her department’s handling of rail contracts.
Remember this is the same Government department that last year awarded the £1.4bn Thameslink contract to Siemens in Germany instead of Derby-based Bombardier. And ministers subsequently ignored calls by tens of thousands of Derbeians who petitioned for that decision to be reversed.
Was that the wrong decision? Of course it was. Did ministers reassure us that the decision offered better value for money for British taxpayers? Of course they did. Are there now even bigger question marks over their decision? Yes there are.
That is why I have written to Ms Greening’s replacement, Derbyshire Dales MP,Derbyshire Dales Derbyshire Patrick McLoughlin, asking that he takes this a little more seriously than she did.
We may be political opponents, but it’s difficult not to feel some sympathy for Patrick. He’s got to carry the can and face public humiliation over the West Coast decision when it is David Cameron who should be the one apologising.
He’s the one who appointed Justine Greening. He’s the one whose out-of-touch transport ministers allowed millions of pounds of public money to be poured down the drain. And he’s the one who brought his cabinet to Derby in March last year to say he would rebalance the economy in favour of manufacturing – then did the opposite.
What we now need from Mr McLoughlin are reassurances.
First, we need to know that the errors which have cost the country dear over the West Coast farce will not be repeated.
Second, we need a reassurance that the £1bn-plus Crossrail contract will be open and fair and that Bombardier will not be penalised like they were before.
And third, we need a further reassurance about last year’s decision on the contract to build the Thameslink trains.
The excuses we’ve heard already simply don’t wash in light of the scandal over West Coast Main Line franchise Particularly as we now know that at least one of the suspended civil servants who worked on the West Coast Main Line franchise also worked on the Thameslink contract. http://tinyurl.com/9tccyrb
The Bombardier workforce, the people of Derby and the country as a whole deserve proper answers to these questions, and I won’t rest until we get them.