Maria Eagle MP, Labour's Shadow Transport Secretary, responding to publication of the initial findings of the Laidlaw Inquiry, said:
”These interim findings are damning. Experimenting with a risky new franchising policy on the most complex of contracts while cutting the Department for Transport’s capacity and axing external scrutiny has seen tens of millions of pounds of tax-payers money go down the drain.
“This is a shambles involving not one, but four members of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet. The current Secretary of State for Northern Ireland designed the new franchising policy, building significantly greater risk into the process. The current Secretary of State for Defence reduced the Department’s capability to manage major contracts by cutting a third of the staff including the Directors of Procurement, Rail Strategy and Rail Contracts. The current Secretary of State for International Development decided not to bother with an external audit and ignored warning after warning about flaws in the process. The current Secretary of State for Transport then declared himself satisfied with the whole process despite the growing evidence that something had gone badly wrong.
“Before the election, the Prime Minister was clear that Ministers must take responsibility for serious or systematic performance failures in their Departments and not be allowed to shuffle off responsibility. It’s time the Prime Minister listened to his own words - he and his Cabinet should finally take responsibility for this franchise fiasco, instead of hiding behind their officials. It’s now clear that this wasn’t just a faulty process, but the fault of David Cameron and his Ministers.
“It is of real concern that the Department for Transport appears to be frustrating the Laidlaw Inquiry’s attempts to access all the relevant documents and emails and speak to all the staff and external lawyers and advisers involved in the franchise process. Instead of the Department for Transport’s Board investigating itself, we need a genuinely independent review with access to all the staff, consultants and documents they need and free to look at the role of the Department’s Board and Ministers.”