The Chief Executive of HS2 Ltd has today apologised for the actions of the quango in handling complaints and dealing with residents and MPs, following a scathing attack from the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee. PACAC were conducting an inquiry from a report from the Parliamentary Ombudsman last year, which found HS2 Ltd of maladministration.
However, the Chair of the Committee, Bernard Jenkin MP was far from convinced by Kirbys contrition, responding: “You are strong on intention and fine words, but you are short on delivery”.
When Kirby apologised for handling of complaints, Chilterns MP Cheryl Gillan responded: “Do you not feel this is all far too little far too late & there’s been six years of damage done by your organisation?”. Gillan read out a long list of complaints from MPs along the route before asking Kirby if he was ashamed of this and pointing out that the Attorney General said HS2 Ltd have put unacceptable pressure on residents to deal over access.
Rail Minister Robert Goodwill admitted that people along the proposed route felt like they were being ignored, but blamed a lack of staff within HS2 Ltd.
Earlier in the session, HS2 Residents Commissioner Deborah Fazan had looked completely out of her depth. Fazan starting off by saying she was independent of HS2 Ltd, before it transpired that they appointed her, pay her, she works in their offices and she reports to their board. After being appointed in January, she went on to admit that she hadn’t met any residents until the following June.
She then said her reports could have been more critical, but she did not have the teeth to get her recommendations enacted, and was ‘frustrated’ and ‘disappointed’ that it was taking so long to implement recommendations made in her reports. Fazan also said she was surprised at the number of complaints MPs along the route were getting, as they were not coming through to her, and that HS2 Ltd do not keep a central log of complaints.
Committee chair Bernard Jenkin asked Fazan to rate the effectiveness of the HS2 Ltd board in dealing with the public, to which she gave them six out of ten. Finally, when asked if she felt a bit powerless, Fazan replied “I think at times we all do.”
Stop HS2 Campaign Manager Joe Rukin responded:
“This committee of MPs has quite rightly found, that HS2 Ltd are great at making promises about learning from mistakes and treating people better in the future, but they are all mouth and no trousers, because no matter how many times they make these promises, nothing ever happens and they treat both residents and the MPs who represent them like an inconvenience.”
“It has gone beyond the point where HS2 Ltd can promise they will get better, because all hope that there could be trust in the organisation has long since been destroyed by their actions over the last six years. This hearing confirmed that the so-called residents commissioner is simply window-dressing, as she herself admitted she didn’t have the teeth to get things done and was powerless.”
Penny Gaines Chair of Stop HS2 added:
“The PACAC committee starting off by looking at a single complaint by an ordinary member of the public, and have now found that this was just one of many. HS2 Ltd and the Department for Transport have been big on fine words, but have been unwilling to put into practise what is needed to be done to engage with the public who are affected by HS2.