The government’s first independent report into the West Coast Mainline fiasco announced its findings last Thursday. In his report, Sam Laidlaw found that Department for Transport officials had supplied Ministers with inaccurate information before the original decision was taken.
Hours earlier the government agreed to extend Virgin’s contract to extend the West Coast Mainline train service for another 23 months, until November 2014. Then the government will make a new franchise decision.
The challenge now is to learn the right lessons so these costly mistakes can never happen again.
The government has accepted Mr Laidlaw’s recommendations that civil servants need a clearer, simpler structure of governance and someone senior in charge when working on these franchises. The Secretary of State has apologised for the department’s mistakes.
I welcome these important first steps but in themselves they are not enough.
This pause gives us time to get the franchise process right. I have long argued that past performance should be taken into account when deciding whether a contract is awarded, and that proper independent scrutiny should be made before a contract is awarded.
I am also lobbying for the government to change the rules to make the awarding of contracts more transparent and less dependent on who offers the most money.
It is time to learn the lessons of this sorry tale and get it right next time.