With almost everyone’s focus on Brexit yesterday, it could have easily been missed that CH2M, one of HS2’s engineering firms, had to withdraw from part of the project due to conflict of interest concerns raised by the TPA and others.
CH2M have been working with HS2 Ltd since 2012 and were awarded a £350 million contract to develop Phase 1 of the Line from London to Birmingham. Earlier this year CH2M were chosen to develop Phase 2b – the stretch from Birmingham to Manchester – agreeing a contract worth £170 million. But the signing of the new contract was repeatedly delayed due to concerns raised by competing bidder Mace over alleged conflicts of interest. Yesterday CH2M officially withdrew from the Phase 2b part of the project.
CH2M’s relationship with HS2 has been mired in controversy since it was revealed that CH2M’s European Managing Director, Roy Hill, would be appointed interim CEO of HS2, replacing Simon Kirby who left his £750,000 a year job for Rolls-Royce, while a permanent successor was found. After a five month global search by an elite recruitment company, HS2 plumped for CH2M’s Regional Managing Director, Mark Thurston.
Concerns about the closeness of the relationship between HS2 and CH2M has been raised by those from all sides of the political spectrum. Cheryl Gillan MP, a vocal critic of HS2, was informed via the Transport Minister, Andrew Jones, in a Parliamentary Question that 25 of HS2’s current staff have worked for CH2M while another 37 are on secondment at HS2 Ltd. Yesterday afternoon Ms Gillan raised her concerns during a Point of Order in the House of Commons and again this morning put her concerns to the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling. TPA Chief Executive John O’Connell was quoted in today’s Sun rightly arguing that “the revolving door between HS2 Ltd and CH2M never passed the smell test”. While in the House of Commons, Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary, Andy McDonald MP, quoted John’s statement in a question to Grayling, agreeing that the deal “stinks to high heaven.”
The problems with this project continue to mount up. In July of last year the TPA published A Rich man’s toy: The case for scrapping HS2, our most extensive piece of work on HS2, which showed how the business case for HS2 has fallen apart and the scheme is already projected to be massively over its original budget. Rather than constantly firefighting, shouldn’t the government just bite the bullet and consign this expensive vanity project to the dustbin?