More Bombardier bungling from the shambolic Department for Transport

December 22, 2012 12:24 pm

Few issues have demonstrated the Government’s stubborn resistance to logic, common sense and overwhelming evidence quite like the shambolic mishandling of the Thameslink contract.

It is a year-and-a-half since then-Transport Secretary Philip Hammond controversially picked German manufacturer Siemens ahead of Derby trainmaker Bombardier for the lucrative deal, instantly sending thousands of midlands workers into unemployment. Two ministers later and the deal still hasn’t been signed, but current incumbent Patrick McLoughlin, just like Justine Greening before him, seems equally as blind to the abundance of evidence that the department got it wrong.

In Derby, we have felt an incredibly traumatic rollercoaster of emotions.   At first, it was anger at the Government’s apparent belligerence and ignorance in taking no account whatsoever of the devastating economic impact of sending the £1.4bn contract overseas. That was swiftly followed by disappointment and bemusement when it became clear ministers had no intention of budging, despite a 50,000-plus name petition and 10,000 people taking to the streets in protest. The months that have followed have featured repeated bouts of hope followed by frustration as each new piece of evidence that is unearthed is either dismissed or ignored by the Government.

And now we’re back to anger again – as it becomes increasingly obvious that the Government’s resolve to see this one through is nothing to do with sense or necessity but everything to do with a bloody-minded determination not to buckle, however compelling the case that they ought to.

It is like a scene from Fawlty Towers in which Basil keeps digging, digging and digging some more until he has no choice but to meet an inevitable calamitous conclusion.  The big difference is that Mr McLoughlin’s failings, like those of Ms Greening and Mr Hammond before him, simply aren’t funny.

The latest evidence to come to light, and to be roundly ignored by the Government, is the somewhat fundamental concern that the Thameslink trains simply aren’t going to be compatible for wide swathes of British tracks – and that Siemens has no existing ability to rectify that. By contrast, Bombardier not only boasts a compatible model already, but had it been made preferred bidder instead of Siemens, it would have been able to begin production immediately. And ability to act immediately is another major concern with Siemens right now.

It might have escaped Mr McLoughlin’s attention, but it hasn’t escaped the notice of the German media that Siemens has suffered significant delays in providing for another contract it won; this time for Deutsche Bahn, the national rail company in Germany.  The mixed-product manufacturer has blamed system failures but is reported in some of Germany’s largest selling national newspapers to simply be over-stretched. This is all on top of the many concerns that have been raised over the original procurement process, with even the Transport Select Committee hearing strong evidence that Siemens was handed an unfair advantage over Bombardier.

And, let’s be honest, the farce over the suspended West Coast Mainline contract hardly fills you with confidence that the Department for Transport is quite as au fait with these dealings as one might expect. Then there is the fact that the Government has significantly moved the goalposts since it originally contracted for Thameslink.  It is now anticipated that a “super-franchise” will be created, also involving some of the Southern and South Eastern services.

This is significant because even if the Government doesn’t want to admit it got it wrong the first time round, herein lay a wonderful opportunity for ministers to revisit the original decision without necessarily losing face.  It was an opportunity they missed and, sadly, I am increasingly led to believe it is because they simply don’t have the bottle.

I hope I am wrong.  Financial close has not yet been reached on the Thameslink deal, although it is perilously close.  In response to a debate this issue on Thursday, Transport Minister, Simon Burns, said they would complete the deal early in the New Year.

But there is still time for Mr McLoughlin to do the decent thing and ask his department to revisit the original decision in light of the wealth of evidence that has become apparent since then.  I would hope that even if his ministerial duty to make the right choice for the country doesn’t persuade him to do that, then his loyalty to the Derbyshire public who elected him might.

If that doesn’t happen, then Mr McLoughlin and his Government will just have to cross their fingers that the vast majority of us who can see what they can’t have got it wrong. For if we haven’t, I can assure them that all 50,000 of us who signed that petition will be watching the delivery of that contract like a hawk and will be quick to remind them of the dozens of warnings they failed to heed before awarding it.

Chris Williamson is the Labour MP for Derby North

  • jaime taurosangastre candelas

    The terms for the competition were set in 2008, including a need for a long term financing over 30 years. Given the different interest rates at which various bidders could seek long term finance, it is only a matter of simple mathematics that the Siemens bid was cheaper. See: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/transport/8621498/Bombardier-had-little-chance-on-Thameslink-because-of-contract-terms.html . Perhaps, being unused to real world numbers and how the economy functions, the last Labour Government “did not realise” in some child-like fashion the likely effect of their setting of the rules?

    If you do not like the fact that a German company won and that local workshare was not “weighted” in the considerations of the bids or costs, perhaps you should address this worry to the Secretary of State for Transport and indeed the Prime Minister in 2008? Instead of whining about the current Ministers who inherited a process mostly complete, and declaring it to be their fault.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001102865655 John Ruddy

      Perhaps the minister who awared the contract on the basis of cheaper finance, then announced a scheme to provide government support to assist financing of the deal should carry some responsibility?

      There is nothing inherantly wrong in setting up a deal which will provide a guarantee of the train service (which is the type of deal we are talking about) – and its hardly the Labour Government’s fault that Bombardier couldnt provide finance cheaply enough, is it?

      What next from you Jaime? Labour to blame for apocolypse not happening?

Latest

  • Comment As the PPC in Iain Duncan Smith’s constituency, Ed has taught me two important lessons

    As the PPC in Iain Duncan Smith’s constituency, Ed has taught me two important lessons

    Ed Miliband has tackled the issue of his perceived image problem. Rather than embarrassingly excuse himself or convince the public he is something he is not, he has embraced his own persona, accepting it in order to extinguish the ongoing media analysis of who he is rather than what he stands for. This move shows courage, political prowess and most of all, it’s set the stage for next year’s election to be about policy rather than personalities. I cannot tell […]

    Read more →
  • Featured Cameron condemned for immigration PR stunt

    Cameron condemned for immigration PR stunt

    Yesterday, David Cameron offered an ominous threat to people who are deemed to be ‘illegal immigrants’, when he said “we will find you and make sure you are sent back to the country you came from.”  Who knew he meant this literally?  This announcement was worrying enough in itself – such a threat demonises immigrants and ignores the many reasons people might be in the UK illegally – but the PM decided to take his intimidating statement one step further. Cameron, […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Cameron dropped Gove, now Labour must drop his policies

    Cameron dropped Gove, now Labour must drop his policies

    Fireworks, champagne corks popping and rare mashups of Hallelujah and Ode to Joy were heard echoing down the corridors from staffrooms across England and Wales in response to the news that Michael Gove had at long last been sacked as Secretary of State for Education. Forget the unpopularity of his policies, his mishandling of the scandal over suspected attempts to indoctrinate Birmingham’s children to Islamic extremism or his inability to work with anyone from teachers to the Home Secretary – […]

    Read more →
  • News Labour outraised the Tories in 2013, but financial worries still remain

    Labour outraised the Tories in 2013, but financial worries still remain

    The Electoral Commission’s annual report of party finances has been published for 2013, and it turns out that Labour actually raised more money than the Conservatives last year – by almost £8 million. Labour raised £33.4m, while the Tories raised just £25.4m. As George Eaton points out, over at the New Statesman, much of Labour’s advantage comes from short money (the money opposition parties receive from the state). However, this only amounts to £6.9m, meaning Labour still raised roughly an […]

    Read more →
  • Comment We need a Mayor who offers London serious alternatives

    We need a Mayor who offers London serious alternatives

     Speaking at the launch of Labour’s summer campaign last week Ed Miliband said “We need a new leadership: Leadership that thinks deeply and offers creative, new ideas. Leadership that seeks to be faithful to principle, even when it’s hard to do. Leadership that listens and cares.” His eyes, of course, are set on the general election but he could have been talking about the London mayoral campaign. This time next year a very short primary season will be in full […]

    Read more →