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Finding the right moment

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Chris Grayling, transport secretary, and Philip Hammond, chancellor, have urged the prime minister to remove Terry Morgan from his position as chairman of HS2, as fears grow that the high-speed rail line will overshoot its £56 billion budget by a large margin, the Financial Times reported on 30 November.

On the same day, the TSSA union issued a statement titled ‘TSSA Leader warns HS2 North imperial [in peril?] following departure of Terry Morgan’, which seemed to infer that Mr Morgan had already departed, and it was his choice to step down.

'TSSA leader warns HS2 North imperial following departure of Terry Morgan'

[Chairman of flagship HS2 and Crossrail projects to be sacked, FT, 30 Nov 2018]

Theresa May is poised to sack the “world-class” chairman of Britain’s flagship HS2 rail programme after only four months in the job, amid mounting costs and delays at the country’s most expensive infrastructure project.

Terry Morgan, who also chairs London’s delayed £15bn Crossrail project, is expected to leave both jobs within weeks after a series of recent disclosures about problems at both projects raised doubts at the top of government about his performance.

The move is a sign ministers fear there is worse news is to come, with both HS2 and Crossrail running over budget.

“They told the prime minister they have no confidence in him and she agrees,” said one government official close to the project, which will link London with Birmingham and the north of England. “It is only a question of finding the right moment to announce it.”

Between 2002 and 2009, Mr Morgan was chief executive of the disastrous London Underground Tube Lines ‘Public-Private Partnership’, so it is unclear why transport secretary Chris Grayling would hail him as “world class” (as he did just a few months ago).

gov.uk, 'Secretary of State appoints Sir Terry Morgan as new HS2 Ltd Chairman'

However, the enormous problems of HS2 go back a lot further than August 2018, indeed many of them were embedded from the get-go. The previous chairman, David Higgins, was appointed to “drive down the costs of HS2”, but failed completely.

In October 2013, Railnews reported his predecessor, Douglas Oakervee, as saying that the cost of HS2 phase one was set at £17.6 billion, and he was ‘not interested‘ in any of the £14.4 billion contingency that the Treasury had insisted should be added.

gov.uk, 'David Higgins to drive down the cost of HS2'

At the moment, HS2’s chief executive, Mark Thurston, appears not to be in the firing line, but why that should be, is not clear. The different treatments afforded to Mr Higgins, Mr Thurston, and Mr Morgan, suggest that as covering up failure gets harder, the scapegoating and back-covering intensifies.

All in all, changing the chairmanship of HS2 looks like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. The reputational downsides for any senior personnel attaching themselves to this project are potentially very significant, and it is hard to see why anyone with a full set of marbles would take on the chairmanship of HS2.

Mr Morgan will most likely have to be ‘gagged’ generously, to minimise the chances of yet more damaging news coming into the public domain.

 

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Written by beleben

December 1, 2018 at 4:13 pm

Posted in HS2, Politics

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