Anyone but Branson? Mails trawled for evidence of 'anti-Virgin' bias over rail franchise

 

Whitehall Editor

Thousands of internal Department of Transport emails are to be trawled for evidence that civil servants wanted to hand the lucrative London to Scotland West Coast train service “to anyone but Branson”.

Executives at Virgin Trains have long been concerned about the perception of an ‘anti-Virgin’ bias and culture within the department that could have wrongly led the company to lose its bid to run the line to rival First Group.

Now it has emerged that the official inquiry into what went wrong with the franchise process is to examine all the emails between civil servants involved in the process to establish whether there was any implicit or explicit prejudice against the company.

Giving evidence to the Transport Select Committee the most senior civil servant in the department Philip Rutnam confirmed he had had a request to trawl all email correspondence during the period of the franchise process.

“I was rather expecting that they might ask one to be done,” he said.

“They have now asked and it will be done.”

Industry insiders said Whitehall officials – some of whom had worked for more traditional train operators – disliked the firm’s maverick approach. 

There was allegedly deep resentment when Virgin renegotiated the terms of the West Coast franchise in 2006 on terms which ‘nailed them to the floor’.

“Some people in the department felt they were stitched up,” said one source. “It’s a catalogue of calamities”.

Mr Rutnam, who took up his job as Permanent Secretary in April, also revealed that he had been banned from seeing any of the flawed calculations used to award the West Coast franchise prior to it being awarded.

“It may the surprise the committee but commercial information from the bidders does not come to the Permanent Secretary,” he said.

“So in term of my involvement from April until July I did not see any commercial information about the process. There was then a phase when I saw letters from Virgin which were making representations about it (the process).

“The consequence of the rules that the Department had adopted was that having had site of that material (the letters from Virgin) I was thereafter debarred from taking part in the decision making process.

He added: “I agree that it seems surprising. But these were the rules.”

Also giving evidence to the committee the Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin apologised to taxpayers who are now facing a bill of up to £100m following his decision to scrap the West Coast franchise process. He said they had “a right to expect better”.

But he insisted that cuts to the size of his department could not excuse the failings in the bidding process.

“There were plans to reduce the size of the department before the last election and whichever Government won would have seen a reduction in budget and headcount,” he said.

“Yes there are pressures and there are pressures on the public sector as there are pressures on the private sector. But I don’t think that allows for what we’ve seen.”

On Monday, Mr McLoughlin published the initial findings of an independent report he set up to look into the West Coast bidding affair.

Led by senior business figure Sam Laidlaw, the report said the DfT had been "aware of a lack of transparency" in an aspect of the franchise process but had decided to continue "and to accept the risk of a bidder challenge".

It also said that significant jobs cuts and the reorganisation which had resulted had left lines of responsibility unclear.

The transport committee's chairman Louise Ellman, described the Laidlaw report as "a damning indictment"

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
Australia vs New Zealand live
cricket Follow over-by-over coverage as rivals New Zealand and Australia face off
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
Life and Style
Researchers found that just 10 one-minute swill-and-spit sessions are enough to soften tooth enamel and make teeth vulnerable to erosion
health
News
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
The Regent Street Cinema’s projection room in the 1920s
film
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing