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West Coast Main Line

Volume 551: debated on Thursday 18 October 2012

8. What the cost to the public purse has been of cancelling the award of the west coast main line rail franchise to date. (123215)

Spend to date on contingency planning by Directly Operated Railways is about £1 million. The cost of reimbursing bid costs to the four bidders is estimated to be about £40 million.

I thank the Minister for his response. He used the word “estimated”. How much does he intend to pay to First Group, whose shares have fallen by 20% since this fiasco began? How can he be sure that he will be able to protect taxpayers from further and significant liability?

I referred in my answer to the estimates that I gave to the House on Monday. They are the best available estimates at the moment, and that is why I will stick by them.

Should not the Opposition be enjoined first to cast the beam out of their own eyes, so that they are better able to take out the mote from their brother’s eye? From the way they bang on about this, one would have thought that Labour in government never wasted a single penny, but the National Audit Office found that it wasted £40 million on an asylum accommodation centre in my constituency where a single sod was never turned and a brick never laid, and we never had a single apology for that.

In the light of that direction, Mr Speaker, I am not sure how to answer the question. I am responsible for what goes on at the Department of Transport, but if I moved on to the money that was wasted by the previous Government, I think I might need an Adjournment debate.

I welcome the Secretary of State and the new members of his team; I am sure that they will do a very conscientious job.

What has been the cost of the consultants and legal advisers employed by the Department in the run-up to the legal case?

I do not have the exact figures at the moment. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State answered some written questions on the matter yesterday, and a wide range of figures are available. The figures I gave in response to an earlier question are £40 million and £1 million.

Will the Secretary of State confirm what the cost would have been of proceeding with a flawed tendering process and awarding that contract? On the same basis, will he also reconsider the Thameslink rolling stock contract, to make sure that there has been no mistake with that either?

I assure my hon. Friend that I asked those questions rigorously in the Department and I have been assured that this was a wholly different process. As I have said, I am awaiting the outcome of the two inquiries that I have set up.

Will the Secretary of State admit that taxpayers are set to be stung for far more than the £40 million he is paying back to bidders for the west coast franchise, because what he has not included in that figure is the cost of paying back bidders for the suspended Great Western, Essex Thameside and Thameslink franchises? Will he now come clean to taxpayers about exactly how much of their money will be poured down the drain as a result of his franchising fiasco?

I have given the figures that are available to the House. The other contracts to which the hon. Lady refers are on hold—they have not been let.

Is it not the truth that the cost to taxpayers is likely to be tens of millions of pounds more by the time the Secretary of State has Britain’s rail services back on track? He will hand millions over to private train companies; millions will be spent running three competitions for this franchise when he should have been running only one; and millions more will be lost if companies decide to sue the Government for the losses that his Department’s incompetence have caused them. Instead of the Department for Transport’s own board investigating itself, do not taxpayers deserve a truly independent inquiry into what went wrong and who was to blame for so much of their money being poured down the drain?

When I was told about this incident and the mistakes that were made, I ordered two immediate inquiries. I wanted to get to the bottom of it as quickly as possible, and that is what I have done. I am sure that we will not be short of a number of inquiries, which will take place subsequent to the Laidlaw and Richard Brown inquiries. I expect that the Public Accounts Committee will want to look at the issue.