James Moore: Numbers game which adds up to bad decisions

Outlook Talking of private-sector organisations handling public services, the row over the West Coast Mainline continues to generate lots of what Sir Richard Branson likes even more than money: publicity.

The problem with the way the UK handles contracts like this is that it is basically a numbers game. If yours add up to what looks like the best upfront return for the taxpayer you win.

If things go wrong further down the line, well, that'll be a problem for a future administration.

Other countries, with more enlightened ways of looking at these things, assess qualities such as service to passengers. The financial terms are seen as only part of the overall package.

First Group, which has snatched the line from under Virgin's nose, may ultimately be better at this than Sir Richard's bunch.

But that won't have all that much to do with the contract. And it won't really be anything that a judge can do a lot about. M'learned friends will simply look at the process and whether the decision making has been handled in a correct and lawful manner.

In the meantime there'll be a lot of noise and Sir Richard will generate a lot of publicity. So he'll be a winner whatever.

As for the passengers? Who cares about their interests.