Adonis: DfT acted immorally

The Department for Transport’s decision to publicly suspend three officials last month when it reopened bidding for the West Coast Mainline franchise was “immoral”, former Labour transport secretary Lord Adonis said last week.

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By Joshua.Chambers

01 Nov 2012

He told the Mile End Group: “I would not have started blaming junior civil servants in advance of an inquiry, which I think is, quite frankly, an immoral undertaking. I think they’ll really rue the day that they started blaming and suspending junior civil servants in advance of any evidence.”

As it suspended the officials – one of whom was in fact a senior civil servant at director level – the department established two inquiries: one, run by departmental non-executive Sam Laidlaw, to examine the failings of the bidding process; and another to consider the franchising system in the round.

Before suspending officials, “I would have set up an inquiry, I would have made it truly independent – which it isn’t – and then I would have studied its report,” Adonis told CSW.

“Whereas, what the government has done is suspend three fairly junior civil servants before the [Laidlaw] inquiry was set up, and then set up an inquiry under a non-executive director at the very board of the DfT whose own conduct ought to be an issue at this inquiry.”

A DfT spokesman said it would be inappropriate to comment on the suspensions as there is an ongoing HR review. He also defended Laidlaw’s appointment, saying he is “the person best placed to establish what went wrong rigorously and promptly”.

The interim report was published on Monday. It said that senior staff losses and unclear responsibility lines had contributed to the failings.

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