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Civil servants' suspensions lifted
Three civil servants suspended over the West Coast franchise fiasco have had their suspensions lifted as the Government published a damning independent report into the botched bidding process.
One of the suspended Department for Transport (DfT) officials, Kate Mingay, last week launched legal proceedings against the department.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin had to halt the West Coast bidding after mistakes by the department in the bidding process. Originally, FirstGroup had won the bidding competition and were due to take over the West Coast franchise on December 9 from incumbent company Virgin Trains.
Mr McLoughlin has announced that Virgin would carry on running trains on West Coast up to November 2014 when a long-term franchise would come into effect.
The DfT said that the department's Permanent Secretary Philip Rutnam had decided to lift the three suspensions yesterday. The department added: "The decision to suspend a member of staff, or to lift that suspension, is separate from the disciplinary process and does not imply any conclusion on culpability."
Scrapping the West Coast bidding in October, Mr McLoughlin appointed businessman Sam Laidlaw to head an independent review into the West Coast process. Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson had branded the process "insane" and had launched a legal challenge to the original West Coast decision.
Mr McLoughlin has finally published the Laidlaw report, telling the House of Commons that the report had found "serious problems" and "unacceptable flaws".
Mr Laidlaw, who is Centrica's chief executive, said his report revealed "a lack of transparency, inadequate planning and preparation, as well as a complex and confusing organisational structure with weak quality assurance and insufficient governance oversight".
Mr Rutnam said: "There is no question that this has been a serious blow for the Department and I am determined that we learn everything we can from this episode. We will implement all of Mr Laidlaw's recommendations, and go further, to ensure we have the right set of skills, support and training to ensure failures like this do not happen again."
The report found there were rumours that the DfT had adopted an "anyone-but-Branson" approach to the bidding. It also said that while there were inconsistencies in the way FirstGroup and Virgin were treated during the franchise process, there was no evidence of a culture of bias against Virgin at the department. There was also nothing to suggest that the West Coast bidding flaws existed in any other DfT procurements.