Pressure grows on PM over Bombardier's contract loss

  • 18 July 2011
  • From the section England
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Bombardier plant
Bombardier of Derby lost out on the £1.4bn government contract which went to Siemens

It's not every day you get a call direct from Downing Street.

The boss of Derby-based Bombardier, Colin Walton, was preparing to pack his bags to join the Prime Minister on a trade mission to South Africa.

The high point for Bombardier was to be a photo opportunity with its boss and the PM to celebrate new rail carriages on the Gauteng line between Johannesburg and Pretoria.

Built by Bombardier in Derby, the carriages were assembled in South Africa.

Bombardier's future

The trade mission also offered the chance for some informal lobbying over Bombardier's loss of a multi-million Department for Transport contract to build new carriages for the UK's Thameslink.

The £1.4bn government contract instead went to Siemens of Germany because, according to ministers, it was better value for money.

That's been highly controversial. Bombardier has already laid off 1,400 workers and has warned about the future of its Derby production base.

I now understand that Colin Walton's call from Downing Street was to inform him that he wouldn't be needed in South Africa after all.

The PM's itinerary was being cut short. The Gauteng rail visit was off. No photo op, no informal chat.

Controversial contract

Conspiracy theorists watching the Bombardier story develop will make much of this.

Mid Derbyshire MP Pauline Latham
Mid Derbyshire MP Pauline Latham has voiced concerns over Bombardier's job losses

The reality is that the prime minister is heading home from South Africa early because of the continuing phone hacking row.

The Commons is to hold an extra sitting on Wednesday, the day after parliament was due to rise for its summer recess.

That now gives Pauline Latham, the Mid Derbyshire Tory, her chance to see David Cameron when he returns.

She's leading a delegation of local MPs to persuade the PM to revisit the awarding of the original Thameslink contract to Siemens of Germany.

Opportunity to rebid?

So far the Prime Minister has insisted his hands are tied on this controversial contract because of the procurement rules drawn up by the last government.

But according to leaked documents seen by the Daily Mirror, the Department for Transport included a clause which CAN allow it to reconsider the awarding of the original contract.

The Department for Transport says the clause allows for minor changes, not for Bombardier to have a second opportunity to rebid. But that doesn't satisfy Pauline Latham.

"I really think the Prime Minister needs to be aware of the impact on Derby and Derbyshire should Bombardier close. We want to find how the government can help Bombardier with future contracts so that this important manufacturer maintains train making in the UK," she told me.

The House of Commons Transport Committee is to investigate the Thameslink contract and the whole issue of procurement of government rail contracts.

Its hearings won't start until parliament returns after the summer break in September.

That seems an awful distance away for a controversy - like the phone hacking row - that appears to have a life and momentum of its own.