Council Leader’s anger at blunder

Virgin boss Richard Branson whose firm was set to lose the West Coast Mainline contract to FirstGroup before a government error was revealed

Virgin boss Richard Branson whose firm was set to lose the West Coast Mainline contract to FirstGroup before a government error was revealed

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THE Leader of Wigan Council has slammed the Government mix-up which has led to the scrapping of a huge railway franchise switch.

The proposed takeover of West Coast Mainline services by FirstGroup is to be axed and the tendering process relaunched after a staff blunder at the Department of Transport. The route, which runs through Wigan, has been run by Virgin for many years.

When the announcement that FirstGroup was to take over back in August, Rail Minister Theresa Villiers said the new franchise would deliver “big improvements for passengers, with more seats and plans for more services.”

However, it has now been revealed that Department for Transport staff had made mistakes in the vetting process and it will now be re-run.

Lord Peter Smith, Leader of Wigan Council, labelled the blunder a “total farce.”

He said: “We relied on the Government saying this way (with FirstGroup) was a better deal. Virgin have given great service to Wigan though so I don’t really understand the need to change.

“Whenever I’ve had to go to London, it takes around two hours.”

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin also revealed that the cost of the two inquiries and re-running of the decision of who to award the contract to would cost £40m.

Lord Smith added: “It is not fair how much this error will cost the taxpayer.”

FirstGroup released a statement yesterday saying that the error was down to a government department error and that they had no part in the blunder.

Explaining the error, Mr McLoughlin said he was “very angry” about what had happened, and added: “The original model didn’t take into account inflation and also some elements of the passenger number increases over a number of years.

“I want to make it absolutely clear that neither FirstGroup nor Virgin did anything wrong.

“The fault of this lies wholly and squarely with the DfT. Both of those two companies acted properly on the advice that they were getting.”

“I want to make sure what lessons need to be learnt from what went wrong with this have not been repeated in those particular franchises.”