ExCeL London - 30 Sep - 01 Oct 2021
18 October 2021 - Virtual
28 October - London, UK
Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin has cancelled the decision to award the West Coast mainline rail franchise to First Group.
McLoughlin made the move after the Department for Transport discovered “significant technical flaws in the way the franchise process was conducted”.
The government awarded the new West Coast franchise to First Group in August but the signing of the contract had been delayed after current operator Virgin Trains applied to the high court for a judicial review of the process and decision.
The DFT said that it would no longer be awarding the franchise to First Group when the current franchise ends on December 9 and would “no longer contest” Virgin’s application for a judicial review.
McLoughlin has now asked officials to examine what to do with the West Coast service after December 9 although he insisted the running of the service would continue uninterrupted.
“I have had to cancel the competition for the running of the West Coast franchise because of deeply regrettable and completely unacceptable mistakes made by my department in the way it managed the process,” said McLoughlin.
“A detailed examination by my officials into what happened has revealed these flaws and means it is no longer possible to award a new franchise on the basis of the competition that was held.
“I have ordered two independent reviews to look urgently and thoroughly into the matter so that we know what exactly happened and how we can make sure our rail franchise programme is fit for purpose.”
The DfT said it would reimburse the costs of all bidders for the West Coast mainline and added that “a fresh competition will be started as soon as the lessons of this episode are learned”.
McLoughlin also moved to reassure passengers who use the line which runs from Euston in London through the Midlands to Manchester and on to Scotland.
“West Coast passengers can rest assured that while we seek urgently to resolve the future arrangements the trains that run now will continue to run, with the same drivers, the same staff and timetables as planned,” he said.
“The tickets that people have booked will continue to be valid and passengers will be able to make their journeys as planned.”
First Group said it was "extremely disappointed" and added that it had been given no indication from the DfT that such a move was imminent.
"The DfT have made it clear to us that we are in no way at fault, having followed the due process correctly," the company said in a statement. "We submitted a strong bid, in good faith and in strict accordance with the DfT's terms. Our bid would have delivered a better deal for West Coast passengers, the taxpayer and an appropriate return for shareholders."
A Virgin Rail Group spokesperson said: “We welcome today's frank announcement by the secretary of state, acknowledging the flaws in the way the InterCity West Coast competition was assessed and launching a review into franchising more widely.
"We are ready to play a full part in assisting the review to help deliver a franchising system that better serves passengers, taxpayers and the interests of all bidders.
"In the meantime, we will assist the Department for Transport in ensuring continuity of service for the millions of customers who depend on train services on the West Coast mainline."