by Ray Fleming

The then Transport Minister, Justine Greening, closed the deal for First Group to take over the UK's West Coast rail service from Virgin Trains in December during the late-August Bank Holiday weekend. At the time I wrote here: “I have not seen a single endorsement of Justine Greening's decision by expert opinion, the media or public opinion in polls. Mr Cameron should intervene, very quickly.” He did not and as a result of yesterday's decision by the new Transport Minister, Patrick McCloughlin, to cancel the previous franchise negotiations because of “significant flaws” in them the government is seriously embarrassed and the public purse will be 40m pounds poorer. It was obvious to any interested observer that the award of the franchise to First Group in place of Virgin Trains begged many questions. Richard Branson called it “insane”, saying it repeated mistakes made previously with other franchises. He has been proved right. Yet only his persistence in seeking a Judicial Review of the decision forced the Department of Transport to review its decision and admit its flaws. John Major's break-up of British Rail in 1991 was a clumsy privatisation; in opposition at the time Labour said it would re-nationalise the railways but did not do so when in power. Ed Miliband should re-examine the issue and be prepared to take appropriate action when he has the opportunity.

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