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HS2 truths ‘incompatible with transparency’

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From 31 July 2011, central government funded programmes requiring HM Treasury approval were placed under the scrutiny of the Major Projects Authority (MPA). Creation of the Authority had been announced by the Minister for the Cabinet Office on 9 February 2011.

[Cabinet Office, 31 March 2011]
The MPA is a partnership between the Cabinet Office and HM Treasury. It has an enforceable mandate from the Prime Minister to oversee and direct the effective management of all large-scale projects that are funded and delivered by central government. The MPA will scrutinise projects, ensure accountability and inform the Treasury’s decisions on whether to approve projects.

Welcoming the announcement, Francis Maude said:

Previously government projects have had a poor delivery record. There was no cross-governmental understanding of the size and cost of the government’s Major Project portfolio, and projects often began with no agreed budget, no business case and unrealistic delivery timetables. This government will not allow that costly failure to continue. The MPA will work in collaboration with central government departments to help us get firmer control of our major projects both at an individual and portfolio level. It will look at projects from High Speed Two to the Rural Payments Agency’s ICT system.

“Today’s announcement builds on the work we have already done to put an end to wasteful and unnecessary projects. Last summer we launched the first comprehensive review of its kind of government’s Major Projects. That initial review found common and unacceptable failings in projects. We believe the Major Projects Authority will help further drive substantial improvement in the success rate of all major projects across government.

In 2012 a member of the public attempted to get details of MPA scrutiny of HS2, but the government refused to oblige. On 6 June 2013, the Information Commissioner decided that the Cabinet Office should disclose MPA’s November 2011 Project Assessment Review report.

However, no disclosure was forthcoming, and on 30 January 2014 transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin used the power of ‘executive override’ to block publication. The government insisted the decision was made on the principle that releasing such a document would undermine the MPA’s ability to assess projects, wrote the Financial Times’ Mark Odell.

[‘Transport secretary vetoes HS2 report’, Mark Odell, FT, 30 Jan]

A government spokesman said: “It is important to strike a balance between the benefits of transparency and protecting the ability of officials to speak truth to power. The Major Projects Authority will not be truly effective if officials fear that their frank advice to ministers could be disclosed.”

When the MPA was established, it was said that reports would be made available two years after production, the Lichfield Mercury reported. There have since been a further four HS2 reports by MPA and it was expected that, if the Government was forced to publish the November 2011 report, it would then have to publish the later ones.

The government’s position was that disclosure would ‘undermine the decision-making process’, as MPA interviews were given by officials and employees with assurances of confidentiality in a “safe space”.

[‘Transport secretary blocks HS2 report’, Gwyn Topham, The Guardian, 30 Jan 2014]

McLoughlin said the decision to exercise the power of veto “was not taken lightly” and it was “an exceptional case” but claimed the move was to preserve future policymaking rather than suppress damaging information. He said that interviewees needed to know they could “speak with absolute frankness and candour” and the subsequent reports needed to be “drafted in frank, and if necessary blunt, language” so that “problems are confronted and addressed, and are not avoided or overlooked”.

Written by beleben

January 31, 2014 at 11:06 am

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

One Response

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  1. The full text of the 20MilesMore report can be found at our website This covers the transport economic and routing issues of a Liverpool HS2 branch.

    I hope that you find it informative and that you will consider supporting our cause.

    Martin Sloman

    January 31, 2014 at 9:04 pm

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