£3bn Eurorail bid broke rules

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The Independent Online
A bid by a consortium led by the former Tory minister Lord Parkinson to build the £3bn Channel tunnel rail link, Britain's largest civil engineering project, has been allowed to proceed even though it did not comply with the rules of the tendering process.

Confidential minutes of the adjudication committee for the project, passed to the Independent by Michael Meacher, Labour's transport spokesman, suggest that Eurorail, one of four consortia bidding to build the link, initially failed to submit a bid which complied with the terms of the tender document. They were subsequently asked to provide a compliant bid and did so.

The minutes also suggest that none of the four consortia favours the published scheme for the 70-mile link between Folkestone and St Pancras and all want to make alterations to the plan, entailing amendments to the parliamentary Bill and possibly causing further delay and extra expense as only one of the many suggested variants is cheaper than the reference bid.

Bidders are thought to be seeking £1bn-£2bn of public money to build the line, in addition to being given the assets of European Passenger Services, which operates the Eurostar trains using the tunnel, thought to be worth £720m. This is considerably more than the Government had expected, casting doubt over the viability of the project.

The documents paint a picture of a committee being forced by government pressure to make decisions at breakneck speed, yet uncertain of the basis on which to make them. There are also a number of farcical elements such as one consortium sending in computer disks infected with software viruses, another omitting to put in a figure for how much taxpayers' money it needs to complete the project, and a third whose software was so complex that the Department of Transport had to buy a new computer to handle it.

The tenders were submitted on 14 March and were first considered by the "Tender Adjudication Steering Group", a committee made up of senior civil servants and government advisers, on 20 March. The committee allocated codenames to the bidders based on playwrights: Eurorail is called Brecht, Union Link is Stoppard, Green Arrow is Christie (presumably Agatha) and London and Continental is Miller.

The minutes say: "There was some discussion about how the particularly non-compliant submission from Brecht should be handled." There was concern that the "basis for adjudication should be defensible against challenge from other bidders". It adds that Brecht's bid did not include a "reference specification", the basic bid which meets the terms set out in the tender document,

The rules for the process, published last year, say all bidders must "submit a full bid on the basis of the Reference Specification". Later, they set out the terms for dealing with bids lacking in relevant information. The rules say clarification will be sought from the tenderer, but makes no mention of tenderers being allowed to submit new bids. However, the minutes of a subsequent meeting, on 25 April, say: "It was concluded that the new reference bid of Brecht provided sufficient information."

Lord Parkinson's consortium wants to build the line in two phases. It would first construct the line through Kent and use existing lines to Waterloo station, the present terminus of the Eurostar trains. The consortium would then build the rest of the line across the Thames and through to St Pancras.

Michael Meacher said last night: "These documents show that the Government is prepared to bend the rules."

Eurorail said last night it was unable to comment on the bid because of confidentiality required by the DoT.