Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin today admitted that he held himself responsible for the West Coast rail franchise fiasco, as he appeared in front of MPs to explain what had gone wrong. Describing the mistakes as ‘very regrettable and indeed very serious’, McLoughlin told the Transport Committee that both bidders and taxpayers have ‘a right to expect better’ from the department.
The initial findings of the Laidlaw Report, McLoughlin’s independent report into the fiasco, were released on Monday — findings which the Transport Committee Chair, Labour MP Louise Ellman, today described as ‘a damning indictment of the department.’ In the report, Laidlaw revealed that the DfT knew that the bidding process was flawed, open to legal challenge and lacked transparency, but still continued with the process of awarding the contract.
McLoughlin revealed to the committee that he was aware of a number of ‘small issues’ with the bidding process, but hadn’t enquired any further into what these issues might have been. His permanent secretary Philip Rutnam, who arrived at the department in July, said that he had been assured that the process of awarding the contract was ‘going well’ when he arrived, but wouldn’t state whether or not information had been deliberately concealed from the pair.
However, if the committee members were expecting any serious answers about who was to blame for the mistakes, they would have been severely disappointed. McLoughlin left much of the hard word to his permanent secretary, Philip Rutnam, who — due to the fact that investigations are still on-going — was either unable or unwilling to apportion any personal blame. Tory MP Kwasi Kwarteng made it clear that he wasn’t happy with their apparent inability to comment on the Laidlaw report, asking: ‘Will there come a time that you can come in front of the committee and give us a bit more clarification on this matter?’
Although McLoughlin agreed that the department had ‘failed in this particular aspect’, he was keen to clarify that the errors would not be repeated in the HS2 project, a matter which Cheryl Gillan raised concerns about earlier today.
The full findings of the Laidlaw Enquiry are expected to be released by the end of the November which, as McLoughlin said ‘I know everybody will await with interest’.Tags: Cheryl Gillan, Department for Transport, Kwasi Kwarteng, Patrick McLoughlin, Virgin Trains