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
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Sport
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
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

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching