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Last updated: November 27, 2012 6:35 pm
One of the officials suspended by the Department for Transport over the West Coast main line franchise fiasco has begun legal proceedings against the ministry.
Kate Mingay, a former Goldman Sachs banker who was director of commercial and technical services at the DfT, is expected to claim her career has been damaged by her suspension before the conclusion of an official inquiry into what happened.
Mrs Mingay, represented by law firm Mishcon de Reya, filed a claim with the High Court at the end of last week.
The timing is awkward for the government as it is about to receive the final report on what went wrong. Virgin Rail, the incumbent, lost out to FirstGroup’s higher bid to run the London to Scotland line for the next 16 years. That deal was unexpectedly cancelled in September after the discovery of serious flaws in the award process.
The existing franchise is due to expire on December 8 and the DfT and Virgin Rail are in talks about an extension.
A deal is expected to be reached next week – just days before the franchise expires – that will see Virgin Rail, a joint venture between Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Stagecoach, continue to operate services until February 2014 to allow time to run a new bidding process for the franchise.
The author of the inquiry, Sam Laidlaw, chief executive of Centrica, the owner of British Gas, and a non-executive director at the ministry, has already produced a scathing interim report. He has until Friday to hand his final findings to ministers, although it is not yet clear when they will publish the report.
Mrs Mingay was suspended on October 3 just after the government said “completely unacceptable mistakes” had been made in the handling of the West Coast bid. Also suspended were John Gilbert, head of rail procurement, and Supriya Bhol, another more junior civil servant.
The commercial and technical services director issued a statement within days of her suspension, accusing the DfT of “inaccurately” portraying her role through statements and comments.
Mrs Mingay said she “did not have lead responsibility for this project” and did not have “any responsibility for the economic modelling” on the bid. “I have not been involved in briefing DfT ministers or other government ministers in respect of this project,” she added.
A DfT spokesman said the department did not comment on individual members of staff. Philip Rutnam, permanent secretary at the DfT, has previously said the suspensions were “precautionary” and did not imply any judgment of wrongdoing.
The department is also running a separate HR investigation into the three officials.
A spokesman for Mrs Mingay said: “We can confirm that Mrs Mingay has issued proceedings against the Department for Transport but we have nothing further to add at this stage.”
Separately, ministers have ordered a review of the franchising process conducted by Richard Brown, the Eurostar chairman, which is due to report by the end of the year.
Additional reporting by Jane Croft
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