HS2 Ltd spinning its wheels as staff face redundancy

 

Following the prime minister's criticism of HS2 Ltd, the government company has been stripped of responsibility for delivering the Euston and Phase 2b sections of the £106bn high-speed rail project.

New delivery arrangements will be made for these sections, the Government has confirmed, with some suggesting breaking the project into three sections helps mask the overall cost.

”Local
New arrangements are set to exclude HS2 Ltd from Euston works

However staff at HS2 Ltd have not been informed of their future job security, and the government has declined to guarantee that their jobs will be protected.

Transport Network understands that HS2 Ltd staff are currently working as normal and awaiting more information.

Transport minister Andrew Stephenson has now been announced as the dedicated minister for HS2 that the prime minister promised. However, he also has responsibility for Northern Powerhouse Rail and the £3bn Transpennine route upgrade.

It seems likely he will have to consider the future delivery arrangements for the two ends of HS2 as an early priority for his brief.

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The Department for Transport would not discuss ongoing talks between HS2 Ltd and government about the future delivery of those two elements.

Staff at HS2 Ltd can expect to be given consideration for future job roles under any new arrangements, particularly given the scarcity of high-speed rail skills.

HS2 Ltd told Transport Network that it had no sight of the Oakervee report on the project before it was published.

The prime minister used the report as a launching pad for a re-design of the project and lamented that HS2 Ltd's 'poor management' should not distract from the positive case for the scheme.

HS2 Ltd told Transport Network: 'We absolutely and categorically received no advance or draft copies of the Oakervee Review before it was published by the Government.'

This means staff at the organisation could have been blindsided by the Government's announcement and effectively put on a redundancy warning by the prime minister from the despatch box.

Suspicions remain as to the genuine independence of the Douglas Oakervee report.

The deputy chair, Lord Berkely, walked away from the process after claiming an earlier draft was a whitewash. He then suggested to Transport Network that a process of 'continuous improvement' had taken place to allow the report to build up the case for HS2.

Earlier this month, the DfT denied that a leaked version of the report seen by the BBC was the final report.

A spokesman said it was still in draft form and that DfT officials had been tasked with carrying out extra research after seeing the draft version. However, when Douglas Oakervee's report was finally released it was dated December 2019.

When Transport Network asked for an explanation of the discrepancy, a DfT spokesman said that the report had been called a draft version because up until the last moment Douglas Oakervee could have made changes.

They could not guarantee that no changes whatsoever were made by the government to the document after it was handed in by Douglas Oakervee's team; however, they did say on the record that 'no substantial changes' were made. There was no explanation as to why Douglas Oakervee could not simply have published the report himself if it was independent.

The spokesman said that the department received an advance copy so that it could carry out any extra research needed; however dedicated staff from within the DfT were provided to Mr Oakervee's working group throughout the process and were used as a research unit and to provide the necessary documents to the team.

Lord Berkely alleges that while these staff were generally helpful, they did not provide certain documents or information that could potentially have been damaging to the case like cost and spending figures.

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