Deborah Fazan, the HS2 Residents’ Commissioner has today published her sixth report. The post of Residents’ Commissioner has been seen by many to be a toothless token position and the latest report from Fazan, which mainly looks into the recommendations of an earlier report, pretty much backs that up. Whilst several of her viewpoints are critical, we seriously doubt anything will change because the vast majority of recommendations from the earlier report haven’t happened.
Back in November 2015, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) published a Report on HS2 Ltd, which found them guilty of maladministration, and recommended that an independent review was set up by HS2 Ltd. HS2 Ltd got in the former Independent Police Complaints Commissioner Ian Bynoe to look into complaint handling. His conclusion was damning:
“I am not satisfied that the Company now records centrally both informal and formal complaints.”
“Residents experienced administrative delay, prevarication, and a lack of candour about what the Company was willing or able to do and when. They encountered an unreasonable and unjustified defensiveness when they complained that the standard of response they were getting and its timeliness were unacceptable.”
“I can see that behaviours like this are influenced by the working culture and they can reflect the cues which staff receive from the top leadership, the organisation’s core values (stated or unstated) and its raison d’être, the working policies of the body and the extent to which resources have been matched to corporate objectives. HS2 Ltd is charged by Ministers with delivering a designed railway by a fixed deadline to a largely pre-determined budget.”
“It is about to acquire for the SoS legal powers to alter forever the ordinary lives of people “in the way of” the railway. It is not hard to envisage that, amongst the pressures and priorities of an organisation given this task, high quality community engagement may, from time to time, take second place and that performance of a consistently high standard will prove elusive.”
A year on from the Bynoe Report, Fazan looked into how his recommendations have been progressed since then. On all the important points, it will come as no surprise that HS2 Ltd have completely failed. Here’s a rundown:
Recommendation 1: HS2 Ltd should issue senior staff’s mobile phone numbers to members of the public who need to make urgent contact.
So basically, HS2 Ltd responded with a point blank ‘no’ to that one.
Fazan says that “In the main, the set up works satisfactorily but not all HS2 Ltd staff respond quickly or proactively to the helpdesk to enable them, in turn, to respond to individuals.”
This means there is exactly same problem that Bynoe highlighted, and nothing has been done about it.
Recommendation 2: HS2 Ltd should explicitly refer to its commitments to openness, customer focus and accountability in the terms of reference for community forums and bilateral meetings.
HS2 Ltd’s response: We are finalising a new approach to community forums and will implement it once all nine community engagement managers are in place. These new groups will reflect the changed terms of reference.
So again this has not been done, with Fazan admitting: “There appears to be only one community forum group operating at the moment, which is in Euston. From the feedback I receive, it is still difficult to get HS2 Ltd to engage directly with a community. At the moment, in the majority of areas, there is no regular means by which communities and HS2 can update each other on local impacts.”
The other thing of note here, and this becomes a running theme is that Fazan, for whatever reason decides not to actually quote what the actual recommendation from Bynoe was. This seems to us to downgrade the level of failure, and in some instances this puts a positive spin on ignoring what they were told to do. In this instance, she seems to suggest that HS2 Ltd always had a written commitment to openness, customer focus and accountability, but Bynoe specifically said they didn’t start off that way with the actual text of his recommendation saying:
“Terms of Reference for community forums and bilateral meetings be altered to make explicit reference to the commitments to openness, customer focus and accountability now reflected in policy documents, Company values and other materials.”
Recommendation 3: HS2 Ltd should review the wording of the Residents’ Charter, and test proposals with members of the public before introducing changes.
HS2 Ltd’s response: We will develop proposals, test them over the summer, and report progress in autumn 2016.
Almost a year gone since this recommendation, and Fazan comes up with what it probably her most hard-line comment: “HS2 Ltd needs to sharpen its focus on revising the charter to make sure it is completed in a timely manner as we approach spring 2017. A revised Residents’ Charter must be published before Easter 2017 to take into account the start of the construction programme.”
The thing is, Bynoe actually said that Fazan should do this work herself, as the actual text of his recommendation starts:
“That the Residents’ Commissioner considers the Report’s observations on the wording of the Residents’ Charter……”
Recommendation 4: As soon as possible, HS2 Ltd should approve its strategy for community engagement; defining clear milestones for implementing it, clear mechanisms for measuring it, and methods for learning from any community engagement activities that do not go well and attract justified criticism.
HS2 Ltd’s response: We need to make a quantum leap in 2016 in terms of community engagement. We will recruit a new Director of Community Engagement to review and implement the updated community engagement strategy across the HS2 programme. We will publish the strategy on the website once it’s approved. We have “developed a community engagement operations group including key leaders across HS2 Ltd, the DfT and Network Rail to further develop and refine HS2 Ltd’s community engagement principles, … [ ] … define measurement mechanisms by which the quality and effectiveness of each community engagement activity can be monitored, such as attitudinal surveys, and implement a system for learning lessons from less effective community engagement.”
Clearly the phrase ‘as soon as possible’ was lost on both HS2 Ltd and Fazan, who responded: “The new Community Engagement Director has considerable experience in working on high-profile and challenging projects. She needs to be given time to develop the strategy before it can be published, although it should be available within six months of her appointment.”
After all, it’s not like HS2 Ltd have supposedly been involved in ‘community engagement’ for near on seven years….
Recommendation 5: The DfT should require HS2 Ltd to have a strategy for community engagement, and should make sure that ministers hold HS2 Ltd to account for delivering it effectively.
HS2 Ltd’s response: The DfT is considering how our existing community engagement requirements can be strengthened.
Again, a year on and nothing has actually happened. Whilst Fazan points to the fact the Minister has meetings with the community engagement staff at HS2 Ltd, and the DfT have been to consultation roadshows, this all seems to skip over the fact the recommendation was that the DfT and Ministers should actually pull their finger out and require HS2 Ltd to do something tangible. This has not happened.
Recommendation 6: HS2 Ltd should revise and republish its Information Paper on Community Engagement once Recommendation 4 is implemented.
HS2 Ltd’s response: We will do this.
Fazan notes: “As recommendation 4 has not yet been done, there is no published community engagement strategy.”, something which maybe should have formed part of the answer to recommendation five? She does points to the fact that HS2 Ltd information papers relating to the Residents Charter are three years old. But, for the supposed ‘Residents Commissioner’, it is rather disappointing that again, the focus of the actual recommendation from Bynoe, that the whole point of doing this, so that the public know what to expect, is glossed over.
Recommendation 7: HS2 Ltd’s CEO should commission a project to make sure that the organisation’s agreed corporate values have greater prominence – in the work environment as well as where HS2 Ltd interacts with the public, e.g. on its website, at information events, and in leaflets.
HS2 Ltd’s response: We will review how our values are embedded in our organisation, and will review the channels and products used to interact with the public. We will report back by the end of 2016
Fazan: “The organisation’s values of integrity, leadership, respect and safety are shown prominently on literature and in the company offices.” –
Big Woo! The issue is as it has always been, it that it is all well and good to have a document which purports supposed ‘values’, but this is useless if these ‘values’ and not reflected in the actions of the organisation. They will be judged by deeds not words, or as Bynoe himself said Hope is not a plan.”
Recommendation 8: The helpdesk’s ways of working and HS2 Ltd’s use of the gov.uk website should be independently examined to see if concerns were justified and, if so, to recommend changes.
The response from HS2 Ltd seems to skip over the ‘independently examined’ part of that recommendation. Again, the actual recommendation from Bynoe was much more damning, as he said: “That two reported obstacles to effective and responsive communication with the public should be urgently examined from an independent, “customer focused” perspective to establish if the concerns are justified and, if they are, to recommend the necessary changes.”
However, Fazan reports that the situation is actually far worse than HS2 Ltd suggest: “I have asked for copies of the customer satisfaction surveys that have been carried out by the helpdesk to date. HS2 Ltd advises me that none have been done so far.”
So, like with so many of these issues, HS2 Ltd lowered the bar after Bynoe set it, but they have still failed to clear it.
“HS2 Ltd has got the https://hs2ineuston.commonplace.is website up and running, and is procuring digital platforms for other areas although it will be some months before these are functional. As with a number of other areas, HS2 Ltd’s undertaking to provide digital platforms for areas outside Euston is taking considerably longer to implement.”
Recommendation 9: HS2 Ltd should amend its complaints procedure to record all informal and formal complaints centrally.
HS2 Ltd’s response: All our staff are instructed to inform the Public Response Manager of all complaints so that details can be recorded on a central log. We have mandatory training on complaint handling for all new starters and training is being developed for wider areas of the business.
Fazan says that “So far as I am aware, the Public Response Manager is dealing with all complaints to HS2 Ltd.”, but adds: “It can be difficult to tell the difference between a query and a complaint at times, and to identify at what point a query becomes a complaint. All identified complaints and any possible complaints should be sent to the Public Response Manager. As HS2 Ltd moves into the construction phase, this will become even more relevant so that queries do not become complaints, and any complaints are addressed punctually.”
The reason this is significant is that this is a ruse HS2 Ltd have been using right from the start and was central to the original PHSO inquiry, in that they ‘hadn’t realised’ that the original complaints from residents were ‘official’ complaints, as they didn’t have “THIS IS A COMPLAINT” written at the top of every correspondence in big red letters.
It’s not all bad though, as now we get to the final four recommendations which have all actually been carried out;
- HS2 Ltd’s complaints procedure should be printed and made available at all HS2 events and forums,
- HS2 Ltd’s complaints procedure should be publicised at all future public information events,
- The Residents’ Commissioner and Independent Complaints Assessor (ICA) should meet to understand their respective roles and responsibilities,
- The Residents’ Commissioner should receive a monthly report on all complaints relating to her responsibilities (communications, community engagement and property).
The problem is that the existence of documents does not prove the best parctice the advocate is a reality, and the last one of these things is totally pointless, as Fazan admits: “I cannot become involved in individual cases.”, which is what people actually want.
What she actually does is this: “I have received regular monthly updates since this, and have access to all complaints relating to my areas of responsibility. I regularly review these to make sure the Residents’ Charter is being upheld.”
So that’ll be the charter which hasn’t been updated yet then?
Finally, Bynoe made a suggestion (why it’s not a recommendation, we don’t know):
HS2 Ltd should convene a Best Practice Community Engagement Advisory Panel to provide a sounding board for new thinking, and for communication and engagement planning.
HS2 Ltd’s response: We will set up this group, learn from it and improve the way we work as a result.
Fazan said this had happened and it has gone well:
“The first meeting took place in December 2016. It was an extremely helpful session, representing infrastructure groups at different stages: in planning, under construction, and in operation. Attendees included Crossrail and Crossrail 2, Gatwick Airport, Cuadrilla, the Francis Crick Institute and the Lower Thames Crossing team. The panel will now meet quarterly.”
The problem is, this is absolutely not what Bynoe suggested, and just shows that HS2 Ltd have spectacularly missed the entire point of his report. The entire reason why Bynoe was brought in in the first place was in that HS2 Ltd have failed to listen to people and treat them like human beings. In that, Bynoe felt that it might be an idea to have some real people on this panel, opposed to the industry club HS2 Ltd are more comfortable with. Bynoe actually said:
“I suggest that there may be benefits in convening a Community Engagement Advisory Panel, drawn from those who have recent and relevant experience of community engagement work on large infrastructure schemes, both in providing and receiving it. This panel could provide a sounding board for new thinking and plans for communications and engagement.”
HS2 Ltd will probably point to the Francis Crick Institute as their supposed attendee from the public, as this £700m medical research centre was built next to St Pancras Station from 2011-16, during the post-HS1 redevelopment of the area. We somehow don’t think that is what Mr Bynoe had in mind.
In summary, Fazan ended her report:
“To quote from Mr Bynoe in his report, “Hope is not a plan.” Progress is too slow on a number of these key issues. While the number of staff in the community engagement team has increased substantially, there has not been the quantum leap that HS2 Ltd acknowledged it needed to make in terms of quality and quantity of community engagement on the ground. With Royal Assent recently granted, HS2 Ltd must match its actions to its words, and deliver what it says it will in support of better community engagement.”
So basically, this report could have been written at any point during the last seven years.