Taxpayers' £50m West Coast bill

Taxpayers will face a "significant" bill of around £50m over the West Coast rail franchise fiasco, the Government's spending watchdog has warned.

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Statement from Virgin Trains over West Coast mainline court bid

A statement from West Coast mainline operator Virgin Trains about its decision to take legal action over the Government's decision to award a new West Coast franchise to FirstGroup.

"Virgin Trains Limited (VTL) has today commenced Court proceedings in respect of the decision to award the West Coast Main Line franchise to FirstGroup.

We have tried for three weeks to get clarity over the Department for Transport's decision and to have a number of key questions answered. On each occasion we have been refused information.

We are left with no choice but to commence Court proceedings as we believe the procurement process has ignored the substantial risks to taxpayers and customers of delivering FirstGroup's bid over the course of the franchise."

In addition it has ignored the DfT's own assessment that VTL's bid was more deliverable and a lower risk. We question whether FirstGroup’s bid has been correctly risk adjusted by the Department given all of its supposed incremental value is delivered after 2022.

– Virgin Trains

The current process is geared to selecting the highest risk bid and needs to be independently audited to prevent a repeat of former franchise failures."

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Branson loses grip on West Coast mainline

The government has turned down a last-ditch attempt by Richard Branson to delay the transfer of the West Coast mainline away from his Virgin trains.

As our Political Correspondent Libby Wiener reports, despite Labour and more than 100,000 petitioners backing an inquiry into Virgin's loss of the contract, Branson's offer to run the line for free while a review took place, has been rejected by the Department for Transport.

FirstGroup's 'bid was selected by a fair, rigorous process'

We are pleased that the DfT has reiterated that our winning bid was selected by a fair, rigorous process that scrutinised best value and deliverability and that they concluded that no reason has been advanced to convince the DfT not to sign the agreement.

Our bid is deliverable and it provides the best deal for taxpayers, for passengers and for staff on the West Coast main line.

– FirstGroup Chief executive Tim O'Toole

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Government plan to go ahead with FirstGroup contract

The Department for Transport dismissed Sir Richard Branson's offer to run the service on a not-for-profit basis to allow the deal to be re-examined, insisting it would go ahead with the contract.

We note the offer that one of the bidders appears to have made via the Press.

However, the winning bidder was decided by a fair and established process and no reason has been advanced to convince DfT not to sign the agreement.

– Department for Transport spokesman

Branson believes Virgin will continue to run West Coast line

We just want the facts examined.

We believe the facts will prove us to be right and we believe that Virgin will end up continuing to run the line. But the facts need to be examined.

We have sent the Department for Transport a list of 30 questions and this is meant to be an open society and we haven't had one of those questions answered.

I think in fairness, the public should have those questions answered, we should have those questions answered, it should be an open process.

– Sir Richard Branson talking to BBC Breakfast

Labour urges delay over rail deal

Labour is urging the Government to delay signing a new West Coast Mainline contract so MPs have a chance to fully scrutinise the deal.

Maria Eagle, the shadow transport secretary, said the decision to take the franchise from Virgin Trains and award it to FirstGroup should be put on hold until Parliament returns next week.

The politician said there were concerns over how the move would affect fares and levels of service.

Sir Richard Branson offers to run rail line for free

Sir Richard Branson has offered to run the West Coast Main Line for free to allow Parliament time to debate the decision to award the franchise to rail giant FirstGroup. The entrepreneur made a last-ditch appeal to the Government to delay signing the 13-year contract on Tuesday.

Sir Richard said Virgin Trains and Stagecoach would operate the line on a not-for-profit basis or donate profits to charity if the franchise needed to be extended beyond December for a few months to allow Parliament to investigate the decision.

Sir Richard Branson at the window of an 11 carriage Pendolino train at Euston railway station. Credit: Geoff Caddick/PA Archive

In an opinion piece for the Sunday Telegraph, Sir Richard said: "It is far better for MPs to have the chance to debate the issues, and question ministers on the detail before the decision is finalised.

"To assist in this process, there should be an independent audit of the DfT decision to ensure it has been based on correct criteria and reliable forecasting of customer numbers, revenue and payments to Government.

"We must ensure that this crucial decision is taken with all the facts correctly assessed and understood."

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