High Court action against the Department for Transport has begun as the Stagecoach Group seeks to fight the disqualification of the bid for West Coast Partnership.
The claim from Stagecoach relates to the Department for Transport breaching its statutory duties under EU and English law after it decided to disqualify the bid from Stagecoach and its partners SNCF and Virgin Trains at the beginning of April, based on the grounds that the bid was non-compliant.
The Department is already being sued by Stagecoach following the continuous rejection of its bid for East Midlands Trains. The company was also disqualified from the South Eastern competition at the same time.
At each point of disqualification, there was a concern that there was too much risk surrounding the way in which the operators deal with railway pensions.
The chief executive of Stagecoach, Martin Griffiths has said that they believe that the rail system should be transparent when it comes to appointing the best customer and should not focus on the risk to train companies. The court action comes as a disappointment to Stagecoach, although this was a necessary step for the company to take against the DfT’s decision. The hope is that the exposure will highlight the franchising process and help to enhance and resort the confidence of both the public and investors.
The chairman of SNCF, Guillaume Pepy has said they are extremely disappointed with the way in which the DfT handled the entire procurement process for the West Coast Partnership franchise. The belief is that the rail franchises should be let based on sustainability to those operators that deliver the best services, trains and customer experience while doing so in a cost-effective way.
Virgin Group is the third claimant, whereby they believe that the stance taken by the DfT is frustrating. The reason their bid was disqualified is believed to have nothing to do with ensuring that customers have a good train service that they can rely on. Virgin Trains is consistently one of the best operators out there which proves that they believe in delivering exceptional customer experience. At this point, the DfT seems to have ignored their performance and has instead focused on those bidders that are believed to be willing to take on unnecessary risks, such as pensions.
At this moment in time, the DfT is remaining firm, claiming that Stagecoach knowingly submitted non-compliant bids, despite being an experienced franchise bidder.