Opinion Former Article

MPs challenge High Speed 2 chairman

Firms bidding for future work on High Speed 2 will be subject to greater levels of scrutiny following the collapse of a major design contract involving CH2M, the rail project’s chairman has pledged.

Sir David Higgins was grilled this afternoon by the Transport Select Committee over the American consultant’s decision to withdraw from a £170M contract for delivery of phase 2B. It had been suggested that movement of staff between the company and client had led to possible conflicts of interest.

“We will tighten the rules in future and do a more intrusive level of investigation,” Sir David remarked when asked about the process of vetting individuals who form part of a bid team. 

“The last thing we want is for the industry to think that our processes are not scrupulously fair.” 

The inquiry heard about several senior members of staff who had worked for both High Speed 2 and CH2M. On the subject of High Speed 2’s new chief executive Mark Thurston, who was previously a director of CH2M, Sir David said that it is no surprise that a talented railway professional like him was appointed chief executive of the High Speed 2 project.

“We do fish in a very small pond,” he said. “There is a very small group of people who everyone is hiring and our challenge is to have an open and transparent process.

Hopefully the pool will get bigger as we move forward.”

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, who was also addressing the inquiry, said that he makes no apologies for his role in hiring Mark Thurston. “I saw the CVs and there were a small number of candidates who were interviewed.

“Because of the fact that CH2M was strongly linked to HS2 and one of its colleagues was interim chief executive I asked for further due diligence. When I saw that I approved the appointment. I don’t apologise for that; we wanted the best person.”

Sir David Higgins added that High Speed 2 will look to reduce the number of employees on secondment to the project but said there is no revolving door policy between CH2M and High Speed 2.

Delivery of phase 2B of the project has been awarded to Bechtel.

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