Back in April, a comment on the Stop HS2 website alerted us to the Public Appointments Bulletin produced by the Cabinet Office dated 28th April 2016.
The bulletin stated in the ‘Forthcoming Appointments’ section that the post of HS2 Ltd Chair would soon be advertised in the next few months. The Sunday Telegraph followed this up: we wrote at the time:
However, when the fact that his job is being pre-advertised was put to HS2 Ltd by the Sunday Telegraph, they simply said this was an ‘error’ and that Sir David still is the chair of HS2 Ltd. However, HS2 Ltd wouldn’t say how long he was staying for, which given the fact he has apparently just signed a contract extension also seems rather odd.
And then in December, Gatwick Airport issued a press release saying that Higgins was going to replace Sir Roy McNulty as Chairman of Gatwick Airport from 1 January 2017 (Sir Roy would stay on as Deputy Chair). This release came on the same day as the House of Lords HS2 committee report.
A few days earlier, at the Transport Select Committee evidence session with Higgins on 12th December, there was some discussion of the recruitment for CEO Kirby’s replacement. Kirby’s move to Rolls Royce had been announced in September last year:
Chair: When are you going to appoint a permanent chief executive?
Sir David Higgins: That is a very good question. Simon leaves on Wednesday …We have a good group of headhunters. I will not mention their name, because that would be advertising them to the rest of the world, but they are very competent. We have had a global search. We have already gone through all the longlisting process. I have spent many late nights phoning some unusual countries in the world to talk to people about potentials. Our brief was to look around the world to find the best people to deliver a project of this size. We are down to the shortlisting process and we will have someone in place, out of their own organisation, by mid-year. That is well within the timetable of Roy’s secondment to us.
And that leads onto the question of just what has happened to the recruitment process for Higgins’ replacement?
It’s not clear to us now – any more than it was clear to us then – just when it was decided, or by whom – that Higgins was to be off. It is not uncommon for high level Board changes to be decided six months in advance of the actual change, so it entirely possible that when the Chair of the Board pre-advert came up the civil servant who approved it genuinely expected to need to advertise the job.
And yet, it hasn’t been advertised, at least not in any of the places we’d normally expect to see it. A poisoned chalice perhaps?