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24 August 2012 | Adam Leach
A committee of MPs has called on the Department for Transport to postpone the final signing of the contract for the West Coast Mainline franchise in order to give them time to scrutinise the award.
In a letter to transport secretary Justine Greening, Labour Co-operative MP Louise Ellman, who chairs the Transport Select Committee, said: “I understand that the final franchise documents are due to be signed by the government on 28 August. I would ask you to consider delaying this for a short while to allow the Transport Committee to explore the matter first.”
The decision to award the franchise to First Group, which was announced on 15 August, has raised concerns among MPs, angered Virgin Trains' boss Sir Richard Branson, and prompted tens of thousands to sign an online petition against the decision.
In addition to the call from the select committee, Margaret Hodge MP, who chairs the powerful Committee of Public Accounts, has voiced concern over the department’s contracting processes.
In a written statement published yesterday, she said: “We have expressed concerns before about the department’s capability in predicting accurate passenger numbers and reflecting the impact of economic conditions on train operator’s revenue. Questions over their capability have now been raised again and while we welcome healthy competition, it is essential that the department has exercised proper due diligence in the letting of this franchise.”
The online petition organised by Virgin Trains, which calls for the decision to be reconsidered, is closing in on the 100,000 signatures necessary to trigger a debate in Parliament. Among the 98,695 signatories are double Olympic gold medal winner (and Virgin Media ‘brand ambassador’) Mo Farah, comedian Eddie Izzard and chef Jamie Oliver.