FirstGroup chief executive Tim O'Toole refuted claims made by Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson today over the company having "cash issues", despite being offered the rail franchise bid.
Mr O'Toole told the House of Commons Transport Committee that the allegations Virgin had made were "flat wrong". He said:
No, we don't have a cash problem. We have steadily played down debt. This year we have pointed out that cash will be flat... but we believe cash flows will return to what they were.
I don't think there is any chance of our handing back the keys. Absolutely there is a risk. There is a risk in any venture of this kind.
The Department for Transport (DfT) did not follow its own rules over the West Coast main line franchise bidding process, Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson told MPs today.
Sir Richard said Virgin was recommending that the current rules and regulations for franchise should be completely reviewed and the award of a new West Coast franchise should be delayed until the review is complete. He continued:
The DfT did not follow their own rules. The franchise system is flawed. This bid by FirstGroup is absolutely preposterous. It's completely ridiculous. It's taking the system for a ride.
Sir Richard Branson told the House of Commons Transport Committee that awarding the West Coast mainline to FirstGroup would be "bad for the country".
He said that the Government had accepted a "risky bid" over a more "deliverable and financially robust" business. Sir Richard Branson said:
"If it is allowed to stand, it will be bad for the country, bad for passengers on the West Coast mainline and bad for passengers on other franchises. A bad decision will impact the UK".
Sir Richard Branson was given an enthusiastic welcome by crowds outside Westminster today as he prepared to take the West Coast mainline case to MPs. He is giving evidence this afternoon to the Transport Committee and told ITV News "we will keep fighting".
- A judge will shortly decide if Virgin’s case is strong enough to go to judicial review although sources close to the process said this may now take longer than expected.
- Virgin had expected a decision within two weeks of launching the action on August 28.
- Sir Richard Branson will highlight a number of past franchising failures as part of a concerted effort to have the West Coast deal delayed, reports The Telegraph.
- Branson is expected to question why the DfT didn’t assess the two bids side by side to compare growth forecasts and other assumptions.
- Unless two bids are close together in value, the preferred offer is compared against an academic model drawn up by the DfT.
- FirstGroup, which outbid Virgin by more than £1bn to run the West Coast Main Line, maintains that its offer can be delivered and is a better deal for taxpayers.
- However, the West Coast contract remains in doubt after Sir Richard launched legal action against the DfT on the day FirstGroup was due to sign the paperwork for the franchise.
Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Trains has launched a legal challenge to the Government’s decision to award West Coast main line rail franchise to FirstGroup.
The entrepreneur will use a hearing before MPs to criticise a system that has seen firms fail to run their routes at a profit, leaving taxpayers’ to foot the bill.
Branson’s legal challenge to the 14-year contract means First Group may not get the keys to the line as scheduled on 9 December.
The Government last week admitted the profitable West Coast Main Line contract has yet to be signed, thanks to the legal bid by Virgin.
Ministers had to admit to MPs that they have not yet been able to sign the contract with First Group for the lucrative West Coast Main Line.