MPs demand NAO investigation into Thameslink train contract

19 December 2011

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19 December 2011 | Adam Leach

MPs on the Transport Committee have asked the National Audit Office (NAO) to review the decision to award the contract to build 1,200 train carriages for the Thameslink railway to Siemens.

The select committee's report, published on Friday, said MPs were unable to judge whether the decision to award the contract to Siemens instead of Bombardier was correct based on the bid criteria, as certain information is subject to commercial confidentiality rules. In order to ensure fairness and transparency, the report said, the NAO should carry out a review into the decision. The NAO is set to respond formally to the request.

Thameslink, the train line running between Brighton and Bedford through London, is currently undergoing a £6 billion overhaul. The decision in July to award the deal for new carriages to the German firm, rather than Canadian company Bombardier, which operates the last train manufacturing plant in the UK, prompted great controversy.

"We could not evaluate whether the decision to choose Siemens was arrived at correctly because all of the bids were and remain confidential,” said Louise Ellman, Labour/Co-operative MP and chairwoman of the Committee. “We believe that in the public interest an independent review must evaluate whether this massive contract was awarded correctly on the basis of the criteria in the original invitation to tender."

Bombardier has already announced it is to cut more than 1,200 jobs as a result of tough business conditions and the loss of the contract is expected to result in further cuts.

While the opposition has called for the procurement to be re-opened, the government says it is bound by the tender criteria set out by the previous administration.

Last month, Lord Sugar told members of the House of Lords that had he been in charge of procurement, he would have fought “tooth and nail” to keep the contract in the UK.

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