Laidlaw blames gaps in SRO roles and reluctance to highlight problems

The lack of a senior responsible owner for the West Coast Rail franchise project was the “biggest problem” behind the failure of the bidding process, Sam Laidlaw told the House of Commons Transport Committee yesterday.

By Civil Service World

19 Dec 2012

The Department for Transport non-executive director, tasked by the transport secretary with examining the process’s collapse, said that “insufficient senior ownership” between January and April 2012 – when the project was in its key stages – led to a “sequence of errors” that started with “poor planning and preparation”.

Laidlaw added that due to time pressures on the franchising process, a “sense of urgency” made people “reluctant to escalate” problems to senior staff. Other problems stemmed from staff reductions in 2010-11, he added, when the previous rail franchising authority was disbanded and experienced staff were lost.

The use of financial advisers could have “considerably reduced the risk” in the process, Laidlaw said, adding that the department wanted to run the project using “its own internal capability and resources”. This was a “misjudgement” and led to “considerable errors”, he added, but it wasn’t caused by resource constraints or a need to save money.

The three suspended DfT officials have been reinstated, but now face an internal disciplinary process. Laidlaw exonerated other senior civil servants and ministers, saying they’d asked “penetrating questions” but were “misinformed”.

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