3 Oct 2012

Oh No Minister!

I cannot remember so big a hash up in a government department since I started working as a hack in the 1970s. The rail franchise failure is massive. People talk of us taxpayers being in for £40m – but it is likely to be far, far more.

There are the lawyers’ fees and the new raft of private sector accountants who will doubtlessly be hired to check the figures.

Then there are the vast sums required to compensate the rail companies to ensure that they keep running trains after their franchises come to an end.

Speaking of legal fees – Richard Branson’s Virgin Trains may have effectively won their case, but FirstGroup can now be expected to sue over their own issues in the process.

Yet the Department for Transport is a department that has been headed first by Philip Hammond – a man deeply versed in City finance – and latterly by Justine Greening who is a fully qualified accountant. How can they have got all this so wrong?

What is the state of the DfT’s civil service infra-structure? Were private sector accountants involved in the process? If so which of them?

We have long been told by rail experts, including the former train operators’ Chairman George Muir, that the franchising system doesn’t work anyway, and cannot.

It will stick in the coalition government’s throat like a claw, but the most likely outcome of this grim scandal may prove to be the necessary re-nationalisation of the entire rail system. In a cruel irony, the DfT will then have even greater powers to make a mess of not just three franchises, but of the whole bang shooting match.

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