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Government axes West Coast Main Line deal with FirstGroup

The decision to award the West Coast Main Line contract to FirstGroup has been ditched following the "discovery of significant technical flaws" in the way the franchise process was carried out.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said that he has had to cancel the competition for the running of the West Coast franchise because of "deeply regrettable and unacceptable mistakes made my department in the way it managed the process".

He has ordered two independent reviews in to what happened and said that passengers can rest assured that while the issue is resolved trains will continue to run to timetables as planned.

Virgin founder, Sir Richard Branson, challenged the Government's decision to award the contract to FirstGroup and claimed that FirstGroup had overbid.

In his blog he said: "From the moment we found out that FirstGroup had been made the preferred bidder with a completely unrealistic bid, we questioned the way the offers had been assessed and asked the Government to review and explain how it came to its decision.

"We were convinced the process was flawed but despite our best efforts we were met with silence by the DfT.

"We also asked the Government to appoint an independent advisor to look at the situation, which was turned down. Reluctantly we were forced to seek a judicial review. Tomorrow the DfT were meant to have given their evidence to the court.

"I am pleased to say that the DfT has looked at all of the facts and found significant flaws in the way its officials handled the process. They have basically acknowledged that what we had been saying is correct."

FirstGroup said that it had "absolutely no indication that there were any issues with the franchise letting process" and that it expected to sign the contract soon.

It added, "We are extremely disappointed to learn this news and await the outcome of the DfT's inquiries.

"The DfT have made it clear to us that we are in no way at fault, having followed the due process correctly.

"We submitted a strong bid, in good faith and in strict accordance with the DfT's terms. Our bid would have delivered a better deal for West Coast passengers, the taxpayer and an appropriate return for shareholders."

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