Just like ‘fast train for fat cats’, one of the soundbites we’ve kept using again and again over the years in the Stop HS2 campaign has been that HS2 Ltd bosses have been ‘running their own gravy train’, and that the whole thing stinks of ‘jobs for the boys’.
The reason for this of course is that there has been a never-ending parade of obscenely high wages, appointments going to old mates and seemingly preferential attitudes to the awarding of contracts, but it’s never seemed as apt as it does now.
A fortnight ago, we pointed out that after a supposed “five-month global search by HS2 Ltd” for their next CEO, Roy Hill who was acting CEO on secondment from CH2M Hill, seemed to plump for the bloke in the office next door, Mark Thurston, as the next man to become the UKs highest paid civil servant. With CH2M Hill netting a string of contracts over the years that have already brought in £104m, we felt it worthwhile pointing out that the firm that the current CEO was on secondment from, and the now future CEO was going to come from, was on the shortlist for the next set of tenders to come be announced in a couple of weeks.
If you didn’t know where this is going was going back in January, I’m sure you do now!
CH2M Hill was announced yesterday as the winning bidder for a £170m contract to be the Phase 2b ‘delivery partner’, after previously getting the same contract on Phase 1.
Of course, HS2 Ltd were keen to stress nothing untoward was going on, with, HS2 Ltd commercial director Beth West saying:
“Conflict of interest is something we have tried very hard to avoid. Our robust measures to address this range from having anonymised bidders in all award approval documentation to excluding our interim CEO from attending and receiving minutes from any meetings or discussions during which the procurement might be discussed. We are determined to be fair to everyone, and that includes CH2M.”
“It just doesn’t pass the smell test. There is potential for an unhealthy relationship between the directors in this company and public money.”
TaxPayers’ Alliance chief executive John O’Connell went further:
“When HS2 bosses are left in charge of budgets that most government departments could only dream of, it is vital that correct procedures are in place that allow full transparency and accountability on spending and the awarding of contracts.
Most remarkably however was the response from Rail Minister Andrew Jones, who seemed to suggest that what everyone seems to recognise as a massive conflict of interest is crucial, in the same sort of way that HS2 is ‘crucial’, saying in a written answer:
“CH2M Hill has played a crucial role on all aspects of the development of the HS2 project. The company has provided project and programme management, engineering and environmental expertise and resource and was the driving force behind the preparation and passage of the Phase 1 hybrid bill.”