Margaret Hodge demands civil service changes amid West Coast main line rail fiasco

 

A senior MP today demanded sweeping changes to the civil service amid the West Coast main line rail fiasco.

Labour MP Margaret Hodge, who chairs Westminster's powerful Public Accounts Committee, said the embarrassing and costly debacle exposed flaws in Whitehall processes.

She called for "proper accountability" to "raise civil servants' game" and improve quality and standards after three Department for Transport (DfT) civil servants were suspended following the Government's U-turn which will cost taxpayers at least £40 million.

FirstGroup was expected to take over the franchise from Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Rail which runs services between London and Scotland.

But Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin scrapped the deal, admitting the DfT made "unacceptable mistakes" in managing bids - and laid the blame "wholly and squarely" on civil servants.

Mrs Hodge said today: "It exposes in a very stark way that the present conventions on accountability between civil servants and ministers to Parliament and the public aren't working.

"It's yet another example ... of where the civil servants themselves have not really captured and taken on the role that is expected of them in today's society.

"People came into the civil service in the past because they were interested in policy, they wanted to devise policy.

"Today, the job of a civil servant is much more about delivering programmes, and that requires a different set of skills."

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme more training was needed to ensure "incredibly bright, talented, committed" staff could manage projects.

Mrs Hodge wanted civil servants to stay longer in their jobs so they could develop expertise.

"The way you climb the greasy pole in the civil service is that you change your job every couple of years," she said.

"That's a disaster and we need to leave people in post so they take proper responsibility for the very difficult and complex job they have to do.

"Then we have to open up this issue of accountability so they can't hide behind lack of accountability for not telling us what the outcomes are."

Mrs Hodge's call came as Scotland's Transport Minister Keith Brown prepared to make a statement on the "shambolic" cancellation of the West Coast contract, which has sparked two independent inquiries.

Mr Brown complained the Scottish Government was not warned of a decision which affects the country.

"This is a shambolic situation that affects thousands of passengers in and out of Scotland," he said.

"I will do everything I can within our current limited powers to help minimise any uncertainty and disruption for them and I urge the Department for Transport to sort out this horrendous mess and do the same."

Former cabinet secretary Lord O'Donnell, who retired last December, admitted the West Coast fiasco "does raise some issues about skills in the civil service".

He said civil servants who made mistakes should be held accountable, adding: "There are civil servants up and down the country doing great jobs, but we are suffering some areas where there are skills shortages, in the commissioning area, in the procurement area."

He claimed Whitehall must pay higher salaries if it wanted the best staff, telling Today: "That's part of the answer and we should be prepared to do that.

"Having an arbitrary constraint like the Prime Minister's salary isn't helpful."

Lord O'Donnell added: "It's not that they're greedy, but pay is a measure of how much they feel they're valued."

He also criticised ministers who attacked civil servants, saying it was "a mistake" and "self-defeating".

The Institute for Government's director Peter Riddell said the scrapping of the West Coast main line franchise "goes to the heart of the civil service's credibility and reputation for competence".

He said while such mistakes should not tarnish the whole civil service, "errors, particularly as costly and serious in their consequences as over the franchise, inevitably overshadow the successes".

Mr Riddell added: "At a time when relations between some ministers and some senior civil servants are already strained, the disclosures could hardly be more damaging."

PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

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: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

How Etsy became a crafty little earner

The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

Don't fear the artichoke

Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
11 best men's socks

11 best men's socks

Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

Paul Scholes column

Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

Frank Warren's Ringside

Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

Khorasan is back in Syria

America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

On the campaign trail with Ukip

Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

Expect a rush on men's tights

Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions
Peter Kay's Car Share: BBC show is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade

In the driving seat: Peter Kay

Car Share is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade. The programme's co-creator Paul Coleman reveals the challenges of getting the show on the road