Friday 2 November 2012

emails Searched to Find Biase Against Virgin Trains

Official investigators into the Government’s West Coast franchise fiasco have demanded an electronic audit of Transport Department staff e-mails in a bid to unearth evidence of a biased "Anyone But Branson" campaign.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin made the admission while giving evidence to the transport select committee.

Appearing alongside his Permanent Secretary Philip Rutnam, he said the two independent investigations into the shambles had asked ministers and senior officials to instigate a ‘e-mail capture’ system to electronically scan for and root out any potentially biased internal references to Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Trains during their bid to retain the franchise.
The minister was forced to explain to a select committee why his department ploughed ahead with the bidding process for the West Coast Main Line contract despite knowing the process was flawed.
Mr McLoughlin said ‘basic mistakes’ had led to a ‘catastrophic failure.’ It would be a ‘text book chapter’ for future Civil Service training.
The 13-year deal was handed to rival firm First Group in August, but last month days after becoming Mr McLoughlin announced serious flaws had been found.
The deal was cancelled, and ministers spent £1million drawing up plans for the government to take over running the line from London to Scotland before asking Sir Richard to continue providing services for up to a year.Mr McLoughlin told the transport select committee: 'Mistakes which were made should not have been made. It is very regrettable and very serious for the department.
‘We have already apologised to the bidders involved and the taxpayers who have a right to expect better and I would repeat that.'
An official report this week claimed the Department for Transport was biased against Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Trains bid to continue running the West Coast mainline.
Louise Ellman, chairman of the committee, said the interim report 'can only be described as a damning indictment’ of the Department for Transport.
The fiasco was ‘major catastrophe’ that had huge implications for the whole of the rail franchise process, she added.

But Mr McLoughlin insisted there were ‘a lot of people who work incredibly hard in the department who had nothing to do with this West Coast franchise and I wouldn’t want them to be condemned’.
He said it was now ‘obvious’ that decisions were taken by middle-ranking officials which were ‘not referred up’ to senior civil servants or ministers’.