Conflicts, contradictions, and errors
On 19 April, the House of Commons transport select committee questioned HS2 chairman David Higgins and transport secretary Chris Grayling about ‘the circumstances behind CH2M’s withdrawal from the HS2 phase 2b development partnership contract’ and the ‘lessons to be learnt’. As the government had announced a general election the day before, only a few members of the committee turned up, and mainstream media coverage was minimal.
Acording to committee ‘chair’ Louise Ellman MP, ‘Given the sums at money at stake’ in HS2, it is ‘essential’ for the public to have ‘full confidence in the processes’. But judging by what Mr Grayling and Mr Higgins said, there seems to be little reason to have confidence in the way HS2 has been, and is being, run.
Chris Grayling told the demi-committee that CH2M had “lost a very substantial piece of business as a result of a breach in the rules”, that had “come to our attention because somebody inside the organisation told one of the other bidders.”
Despite that ‘breach’ only having come to light as a result of the actions of a whistleblower, Mr Grayling seemed to suggest that there was actually nothing very much wrong with HS2’s bidding process. He appeared to have no problem with CH2M’s Mark Thurston having being appointed as HS2 Ltd chief executive, or David Higgins’ tacit admission that there was not a level playing field for bidders (the scope of CH2M’s earlier work on HS2 having given it an advantage).
Mr Higgins stated he ‘did not know’ why CH2M had withdrawn from the phase 2b contract, but if they had not, they would have been sacked. (?)
[‘HS2 boss admits failures over conflict of interest’, Robert Lea, The Times, 20 April 2017]
The head of High Speed Two told MPs that he and his executives had done no checks and had not monitored a former HS2 chief of staff at the centre of a conflict of interest fiasco with its key contractor on the £55 billion London – Birmingham rail line.
Revelations that HS2 Ltd had been unaware that a former executive was playing a senior role at his subsequent employer CH2M — project manager of the first phase and named this year as the preferred bidder for the same job on the second phase of the controversial high-speed lines — have led to promises of new “intrusive” investigations of personnel involved in bids for the billions of pounds’ worth of contracts coming up for tender.
Mr Higgins also said that Bechtel would be awarded the contract after its bid came in ‘15% cheaper’ than third placed Mace. (HS2 Ltd has never published details of bid cash values, or their technical scoring, so there is an almost-total lack of transparency.)
[‘HS2 to make firms name all people involved in bids’, Aaron Morby, Construction Enquirer, 20 April, 2016]
Sir David Higgins, HS2 chairman, said the body would now tighten up disclosure procedures after US consultant CH2M withdrew from a preferred development partner role on the second phase of HS2.
He revealed the move to tighten up bid requirements as he was quizzed by the Transport Select Committee about events leading up to CH2M being selected as preferred contractor.
CH2M had faced conflict of interest allegations from rival bidder Mace, after HS2’s former chief of staff Christopher Reynolds produced lessons learnt documents from phase one to inform the second phase development partner tender process.
After leaving HS2 last June, Reynolds went to work for CH2M in September.
Higgins said that HS2 had no evidence that Reynolds had influenced CH2M’s bid. But despite this CH2M withdrew “for their own reasons”, revealed Higgins.
In a statement after the hearing, a Mace spokespersons said: “As the Transport Select Committee has shown there are a lot of serious questions to be answered around HS2’s procurement process.
“If we hadn’t raised these concerns, these serious issues would never have come out.
“David Higgins admitted that HS2 needs to tighten up their process is an admission that the procurement was seriously flawed.
“It’s remarkable that he also admitted that if CH2M hadn’t withdrawn, they would have been sacked – which is a clear admission that their procurement process was riddled with errors.”