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

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
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

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?