ITV news pilots sign-off delayed

Thursday, April 1 2010, 13:35 BST

By Andrew Laughlin,

The government has suffered a blow in its desire to get the ITV regional news replacement pilots signed off before the general election, placing the project into further jeopardy.

Yesterday, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport confirmed that it has been forced to extend the 'standstill period' required before contract negotiations with the three chosen trial consortia can commence.

Last Thursday, culture secretary Ben Bradshaw announced the three preferred bidders for the independently financed news consortia (IFNC) pilots in Scotland, Wales and England's Tyne Tees and Border.

Following the announcement, a standstill period came into force until April 6, until when the three bidders can gather more information and feedback, while unsuccessful parties can challenge the decision.

According to The Guardian, the standstill period has now been extended a further ten days to April 16, which will overlap with a hiatus period at Whitehall as the government prepares for the election. Prime minister Gordon Brown is due to announce the election date on April 6, with May 6 the widely-expected choice.

"DCMS has received requests for debriefing following the preferred bidder announcement," said a DCMS spokeswoman.

"Under procurement rules, it means we need to extend the standstill period in order to complete this."

The delay will effective make it all-but impossible for the IFNC trial contracts to be signed off while the government is in power.

As the Conservative Party has vowed to scrap the IFNC scheme, the project's future viability will now hinge on a Labour victory at the election.