This morning, the Public Accounts Committee took oral evidence from John Manzoni, Chief Executive of the Major Projects Authority.
At the start, Manzoni was asked what were he problematic projects which the MPA were keeping in an eye on. Second on the list was HS2: the first was Universal Credit which was in such a bad way the rating had needed to be ‘reset’.
Manzoni made it clear that he was “not allowed” to give projects current ratings. This is in no doubt as a result of the admission two years ago that HS2 was rated amber/red and the subsequent fall out from that.
When discussing which projects were on red and amber/red ratings, Manzoni said that they were mainly IT projects of a ‘transformational’ nature, which affect the way people worked. No matter how the government try to spin it, HS2 – also on amber/red in the latest report – is not transformational in that way. It would allow people in Birmingham to get to London marginally faster, but the effects of IT infrastructure and widespread broadband provision have been ignored by the DfT.
There was some discussion of the very earliest stages of projects in the preplanning stages. Manzoni said questions need to be asked about where a proposed project fitted into the bigger strategic questions: as Peter Mandelson said last year, this didn’t happen with HS2. There needs to be more work done on the options of projects, Manzoni said.
Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said one of the reasons Crossrail was ‘working well today was because it had been delayed and therefore all this early work was… put into place’. This is unlike HS2, which has been rushed through at the planning stages.
Questions were asked about Freedom of Information requests. Manzoni said there were three reasons, and that two of them were national security and commercial sensitivity. Although he didn’t mention it, the FOI requests for information about HS2 was for the third reason: the claimed requirement for confidentiality for civil servants, which led to the government using the ‘war veto’ to stop publication of earlier MPA reports into HS2.