The government’s decision to cancel the award of the next West Coast Main Line franchise could have major implications for investment in UK infrastructure, experts have warned.
Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin was last week forced to scrap the competition to run trains on the London to Glasgow line after uncovering “significant technical flaws” in the procurement process.
Two independent reviews were ordered, and three officials have been suspended.
Stephen Glaister, emeritus professor of transport and infrastructure at Imperial College London, told NCE the timing of the debacle was “terrible”.
“This government, from the prime minister down, is trying hard to create conditions where private capital will fund infrastructure investment,” he said.
“This has damaged the reputation of the British government as a client partnering with the private sector. If you are an investor from a pension fund you need to take a view on the competence of the people you are dealing with.”
Jim Steer, founder of not-for-profit transport research firm Greengauge21, added that it was important the government managed the fallout of the competition cancellation.
“There is a risk that if the rather hotheaded reaction continues, people will read the papers and think it is difficult dealing with the British government. That would be disastrous,” said Steer, who led the original Virgin franchise bid.
“It is extremely important that these reviews come to clear coherent conclusions that show the government has identified the mistake promptly and come up with solutions,” he added.