Probe finds ‘flaws’ in West Coast franchise process

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Three civil servants suspended over the West Coast franchise fiasco have had their suspensions lifted as the Government published a damning independent report into the botched bidding process.

One of the suspended Department for Transport (DfT) officials, Kate Mingay, last week launched legal proceedings against the department.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin had to halt the West Coast bidding after mistakes by the department in the bidding process. Originally, FirstGroup had won the bidding competition and were due to take over the West Coast franchise on December 9 from Virgin Trains.

Yesterday, Mr McLoughlin announced that Virgin would carry on running trains on West Coast up to November 2014 when a long-term franchise would come into effect.

The DfT said that Permanent Secretary Philip Rutnam had decided to lift the three suspensions. The department added: “The decision to suspend a member of staff, or to lift that suspension, is separate from the disciplinary process and does not imply any conclusion on culpability.”

Scrapping the West Coast bidding in October, Mr McLoughlin appointed businessman Sam Laidlaw to head an independent review into the West Coast process. Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson had branded the process “insane” and had launched a legal challenge to the original decision.

Yesterday Mr McLoughlin told MPs that the Laidlaw report had found “serious problems” and “unacceptable flaws”.