Atkins may face probe over rail deal fiasco

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Design and engineering firm WS Atkins could be next in the firing line for its part in a flawed £5bn rail deal torn up by the government this week.

Independent reviews into the collapsed West Coast Main Line deal and the Department for Transport’s wider rail franchise programme have been ordered by Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin. The independent review will likely consider Atkins’ advisory role in helping to evaluate bids and provide data.

On Wednesday, the DfT said that “completely unacceptable” flaws had been uncovered in its handling of bids to run the line, a jewel in the crown of the rail network linking London and Scotland.

Mr McLoughlin said that his department’s mistakes would cost the taxpayer at least £40m.

Yesterday, Atkins said it had provided “technical support” for the re-letting of the contract, confirming it had supported the DfT’s bid evaluation process and provided technical data for the department’s financial risk assessment. It said it had not undertaken an audit role.

“We do not believe there are any issues concerning the quality of the advice that we provided. We believe that we have applied properly assured and technically appropriate approaches in line with the department’s franchise replacement process and our own internal processes,” a spokesperson said.

FirstGroup won the 13-year deal in August for the London-to-Scotland line, only for Virgin Trains to challenge the decision and eventually prompt an embarrassing government U-turn.