Four Cabinet ministers have their fingerprints on the West Coast Main Line “franchise fiasco”, Labour has claimed.
Shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle said Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, his predecessor and current International Development Secretary Justine Greening, Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers and Defence Secretary Philip Hammond have all played a role.
She urged Prime Minister David Cameron to make sure his ministers take responsibility for the cancellation of the bidding process for the new franchise, which collapsed several weeks ago shortly before FirstGroup signed a contract for the deal.
Mr McLoughlin was updating MPs in the Commons on Monday on an interim report into the affair, which is set to cost taxpayers at least £40 million in refunding costs to the bidding firms, Virgin Rail and First Group.
Ms Eagle said: “Do you agree ministers must take responsibility for serious or systematic performance failures, flawed policy and poor design?
“Ministers must not be allowed to shuffle off responsibility - not my words but the words of the Prime Minister. This isn’t just a faulty process, it’s a faulty Government.”
Ms Eagle continued: “Not one but four members of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet and it’s about time they took responsibility for it instead of blaming officials.”
Mr McLoughlin told MPs he received the interim report into the franchise collapse from Sam Laidlaw, who was commissioned by the Department for Transport to look into what happened.
A further report, with firm conclusions, is expected by the end of November.
Mr McLoughlin said the report made “uncomfortable reading” and outlined its findings.
He told the Commons: “It is clear that the inquiry has identified a number of issues which confirm that my decision to cancel the franchise competition was necessary.
“These include a lack of transparency in the bidding process, the fact that published guidance was not complied with when bids were being processed, inconsistencies in the treatment of bidders and confirmation of technical flaws in the model used to calculate the amount of risk capital bidders were asked to provide to guard against the risk of default.
“The Laidlaw inquiry also mentions factors “that appear to have caused or contributed to the issues raised”.
Mr McLoughlin told MPs plans were continuing for an interim contract with Virgin to operate for up to 14 months while the franchise process was rerun.
He said passengers would see the same staff on the same trains and the service would be “enhanced”.
He added: “In dealing with this, my department has been frank and open about its mistakes and is absolutely determined to find out exactly what happened.”
Ms Eagle insisted the Government had questions to answer, including about what ministers knew and when, how much the bill would be for taxpayers, the cost of external advice to the Department for Transport and on legal advice received about the process going forwards.
She said the Department for Transport board should be taking more responsibility.
She asked: “Will you think again and allow a genuinely independent review of the role of the DfT board and its ministers?”
Mr McLoughlin replied: “Firm judgments should not be made based upon what are provisional findings or wider conclusions drawn at this stage.
“I have been very open with the House about the problems encountered on this matter. When you accuse the Government of wasting money, you should look back at the record of the previous government.
“The fact is, as far as money is concerned, the £40 million is as far as the bidding process is concerned. There will be some other costs, when I have those costs I will inform the House.”