West Lancashire MP Rosie Cooper gave Transport Ministers a stern warning that Dick Turpin train operators shouldn’t be allowed to hold taxpayers ransom.
Ms Cooper made her comments during a Westminster Hall debate on Monday 17 September. MP Rosie secured the debate calling on the Government to reconsider its decision to award the West Coast Mainline Franchise to FirstGroup after 173,000 people signed an e-petition supporting this action.
There has been considerable concern expressed by commentators, commuters and MPs about whether the Department for Transports tender process has delivered a deal 'promising' the most money rather than offering taxpayers the best value for money.
During the debate the MP said:
“In recent years a number of train operators have handed back the keys to Government on franchises such as the East Coast mainline. I believe MPs on all sides want to be sure this is not going to happen again. Taxpayers need assurances they will not be held to ransom by Dick Turpin train operators asking them to stand and deliver - having secured the contract on a bogus premise, taken their profits and scarpered.”
Rosie went on to cast doubt over the credibility of the bid process and expressed how little confidence she has in the Department for Transport’s ability to assess the bids properly. She commented:
“I understand that the Government uses a computer programme to test the assumptions within the bids. The same modelling programme used by the same consultants that said the West Coast Mainline should be carrying an extra £15 million of fare over the period of the Olympics and the Paralympics.
“In the end the additional revenues amounted to between £1 million and £2 million. Such projections were for a single event over a short period of time and they were way, way off. How much confidence does this instil in us over projections that are supposed to last 15 years?”
Rosie’s reaction to the Minister’s response after the debate was:
“Today was a chance for backbench MPs to have their say and to raise the concerns of their constituents. Whilst the message from the Department of Transport has been ‘trust us’, I genuinely hope that we don’t find ourselves saying, ‘we told you so.’ If that happens the commuters and taxpayers will be the ones who pay the price.
“We still don’t have any detailed answers from Government though.
“The Minister also talked about opportunities after the judicial review for further scrutiny of the process. I attempted to get assurances that this scrutiny will take place before the contract is signed. My fear is that this will all be too little, too late.
“At the end of the debate the questions which MPs raised that go to the very heart of this issue remain unanswered.
“I am sure most people watching the debate will share my frustrations at the Government’s unwillingness to answer MPs questions. The Minister didn’t even really offer a robust defence of the actual tender process. He did accept that there are lessons for Government to learn for the future.
“Now we await the outcome of the Judicial Review and what new information comes to light. One thing is for sure the fight over the future of the West Coast Mainline is far from over.”