RAIL unions renewed their calls yesterday to drive privateers out for good following a damning indictment of Whitehall’s murky procurement deals.
A National Audit Office review questioned irregularities in the Department for Transport’s decisions awarding contracts for major rolling stock purchases worth billions of pounds apiece.
The auditors said they found department officials had “created confusion” in the industry by deciding to directly handle the procurement process for their Intercity Express and Thameslink contracts, rather than referring the project to consultants.
The officials’ decision — on contracts worth more than £10 billion combined — was made “despite not having led a major rolling stock procurement before.”
In the case of Intercity Express, department officials had later called on bidder Agility Trains to add another 270 carriages to the order without seeking offers from its competitors.
Yet the diesel trains acquired via Agility’s lucrative contract were mothballed just two years after the project began, following the department’s decision to electrify its Great Western main line.
The auditors said the department’s contracts were linked “in line with broad objectives” such as reduced long-term costs and anticipating increased demand.
But rail union leaders were scathing, with transport union RMT acting general secretary Mick Cash deriding the report as “hopelessly inadequate.”
He said: “The key problem is that train procurement is tied in with the fragmentation and profiteering of rail privatisation and until we bring the whole industry back under public ownership we are in danger of repeating the Thameslink and IEP fiascos which have starved our railways of the additional, modern rolling stock they desperately need,” he said.
And train drivers’ union Aslef’s general secretary Mick Whelan accused the coalition of cronyism.
He said: “The government is giving rail franchises to its mates. It is giving an opportunity for firms to make private profits at public expense.
“There’s a dangerous lack of rigour and a dangerous lack of transparency in all this.
“We fear the public purse will, once again, be ripped off by a government which regards public services as an opportunity for their mates to turn a handsome profit.”