Ellman criticises lack of information from DfT

A SCHEDULED Commons Transport Committee session about the West Coast franchise collapse has been postponed because one of the suspended civil servants has started legal action, but the MP who chairs the committee has hit out at the stance of the Department for Transport.

Centrica chief executive Sam Laidlaw had been due to appear before the Committee today to discuss the final version of his report into the failure of the West Coast competition, which was to have been published at the end of last week.

However transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin has delayed publication. Some of the issues in the report are now the subject of a High Court challenge mounted by Kate Mingay, one of three civil servants who were suspended on 3 October after the withdrawal of the award of the West Coast franchise to FirstGroup had been announced.

She claims that her suspension, which like the others was carried out by DfT permanent secretary Philip Rutnam, was unjustified and has damaged her career. The case is due to resume on Friday this week.

With the completed Laidlaw findings still under wraps, today's Transport Committee session has been postponed until later this month.

But Louise Ellman, who chairs the Committee, said: "I am very disappointed that the Government has delayed publication of Sam Laidlaw’s final report into the collapse of the West Coast Main Line franchise competition. It was expected that the report would be released last week and, as a result, we arranged to hear oral evidence from Mr Laidlaw and his colleague Ed Smith on 4 December.

"Not only has the report not appeared, but the DfT has not had the courtesy to contact us directly about the delay nor explain when this document will be made public. It is regrettable that the DfT should have added to the confusion caused by the abandonment of the West Coast Main Line competition with this episode.

"We have reluctantly decided to postpone the evidence session on the Laidlaw report until Tuesday 18 December at 10am, by which time the Laidlaw report should be in the public domain."

A DfT spokesman responded: "Given the level of detail in the report and the complex legal and commercial issues it covers, it is right that ministers and the department have an opportunity to consider fully its findings before formal publication. However, we fully intend to publish the report and will do so as soon as possible."

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