West Coast Rail Franchise: Ministers Blamed
Four Cabinet ministers have their "fingerprints" on the West Coast Main Line "franchise fiasco", Labour has claimed as an interim report into the process was published.
Shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle said Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, his predecessor and current International Development Secretary Justine Greening, Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers and Defence Secretary Philip Hammond have all played a role.
She urged the Prime Minister to make sure his ministers take responsibility for the cancellation of the bidding process for the new franchise, shortly before FirstGroup signed a contract for the deal.
Mr McLoughlin blamed the decision to scrap the process on mistakes by Department for Transport (DfT) officials
The comments came as the Transport Secretary updated MPs on the interim report into the affair, which is set to cost taxpayers at least £40m in refunding costs to the bidding firms, Virgin Rail and First Group.
Ms Eagle said: "Do you agree ministers must take responsibility for serious or systematic performance failures, flawed policy and poor design?
"Ministers must not be allowed to shuffle off responsibility - not my words but the words of the Prime Minister. This isn't just a faulty process, it's a faulty Government."
Mr McLoughlin admitted to MPs that the report by senior business figure Sam Laidlaw made "uncomfortable reading".
He told the Commons: "It is clear that the inquiry has identified a number of issues which confirm that my decision to cancel the franchise competition was necessary.
"These include a lack of transparency in the bidding process, the fact that published guidance was not complied with when bids were being processed, inconsistencies in the treatment of bidders and confirmation of technical flaws in the model used to calculate the amount of risk capital bidders were asked to provide to guard against the risk of default.
"The Laidlaw inquiry also mentions factors "that appear to have caused or contributed to the issues raised".
In a statement issued through the DfT, Mr Laidlaw said that "an accumulation of significant errors" led to "a flawed process".
He added: "These errors appear to have been caused by factors including inadequate planning and preparation, a complex organisational structure and a weak governance and quality assurance framework."
A further report, with firm conclusions, is expected by the end of November.
Government spending watchdog the National Audit Office said it was also looking at the cancellation of the West Coast franchise and planned to publish its report before Christmas.