How did Greening’s “accountant’s eye” miss the WCML screw up while at Transport?

New international development secretary Justine Greening has pledged a "line-by-line" examination of DFID spending - yet she failed to spot the WCML farce.


The Daily Mail recently reported new international development secretary Justine Greening’s targetting of the “fat cats of foreign aid”, with a “line-by-line” examination of DFID spending – the kind of forensic analysis absent during the West Coast Main Line debacle while she was transport secretary.

The Mail revealed:

Miss Greening, who is an accountant by training, has demanded a rapid explanation of apparently extravagant spending and is said to be going through the Department for International Development’s budget ‘line by line’.

Justine will be sure to bring an accountant’s eye to DfID and will be looking extremely closely at every single area of spend to ensure value for money for the British taxpayer,” said one source.

“She has ordered a full report on all the issues that have been raised on her desk by the end of the month.”

As the Telegraph notes, however, Miss Greening’s “accountant’s eye” failed spectacularly to see anything wrong with the WCML bidding process when at the DFT; here are the key dates:

August 23, 2012 – The awarding of the contract should be delayed until the bid has been scrutinised by MPs, said the chairman of the Transport Committee, Louise Ellman.

August 25, 2012 – Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Sir Richard admitted that he was “annoyed by the decision. More than 150,000 people have signed a petition against the government award.

August 28, 2012 – Virgin launches legal action in a final attempt to prevent the Government handing its West Coast rail franchise to FirstGroup. Justine Greening pledges to “push on” with handing the West Coast rail franchise to FirstGroup.

September 12, 2012 – The Government admitted that FirstGroup’s contentious £13.3bn bid was riskier than the rival offer from Virgin Rail but insisted it still represented better value for the taxpayer.

September 18, 2012 – The DfT was forced to temporarily nationalise the line because of the Virgin Trains legal challenge, by putting a team of officials in place to run it.

And the result of Greening’s failure? An avoidable £40 million bill to the taxpayer, the re-running of the bid and the temporary nationalisation of the West Coast Main Line – just the kind of ministerial record you’d want of someone in charge of a budget that literally has the power to save lives.

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