Labour urges review into West Coast mainline franchise

The Labour Party is calling on the Transport Secretary to delay signing off the contract awarding the West Coast Mainline franchise to FirstGroup.

Services on the line, which includes the route from Holyhead to Euston, have been run by Virgin Trains for the last fifteen years. The UK Government announced earlier in August that the company had lost out in the latest franchise round.

Labour says MPs had been denied the chance to raise concerns about the deal because it was announced during the Commons summer recess.

The decision appears almost exclusively a 'bottom line' one, driven by a particularly high pledge of payments to Government.

First Group's successful bid of £5.5bn was significantly higher than any other bid, including the £4.8bn offered by the incumbent.

You will know of the history of franchise contracts being brought to an early end, at least in part because of over-ambitious payment promises that proved impossible to realise. There are fears that lessons have not been learnt.

– Maria Eagle MP, Shadow Transport Secretary

FirstGroup claims it will deliver better value for taxpayers. It plans major improvements to the InterCity West Coast franchise to 'enhance the customer experience', including improved wifi and catering, as well as additional services and more seats and reducing standard anytime fares by 15% on average.

The shambolic handling of the West Coast franchise has not only left 800 of our members' jobs hanging by a thread but has also exposed the chaos right at the heart of the Transport Department and the insanity of government rail policy which revolves around a poisonous cocktail of cuts, fare increases and private profits.

The only sensible solution is renationalisation if we are to avoid the anarchy of an action replay of the east coast route collapse."

– Bob Crow, leader of the RMT transport union

More than 100,000 members of the public have also signed an online petition against the decision, in a campaign supported by double Olympic champion Mo Farah, Apprentice star Lord Sugar and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.