A report by Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee has criticized the management of HS2 over how it is handling the huge project and warned that it is already “badly off course”.
The report follows hearings held in March this year into HS2’s progress.
The Committee had previously expressed concerns about HS2’s management to handle the project, and warns that the project sill has gaps in key areas such as risk management and assurance, project management and project control.
They’re also concerned about the uncertainty about the design, and delivery, of the Euston station upgrade.
Although it was announced in March 2019 that HS2’s phase 1 couldn’t be delivered in the agreed timeframe or budget, it seems that the management had been aware of this problem for at least six months before disclosing it.
The report said that “With so many peoples’ homes and livelihoods affected by the construction of the railway, there is no justification for the Department of Transport (DfT) and HS2 having been so opaque about the delays and budget overruns.”
One example cited in the reports is how unplanned mitigation spending, where for example HS2 has to compensate for disruption or construct alleviating structures has soared from an estimated £245 million to £1.2 billion. HS2 said that was due to the speed at which the plans were drawn up, although the Committee was unconvinced.
HS2’s annual report and accounts for the year ending 31 March 2019 also failed to give an accurate account of the problems. In evidence to the Committee, both the DfT and HS2 citing commercial sensitivity and ongoing efforts to address the problems, but the Committee says this was not an adequate excuse for not disclosing the risk and uncertainty the programme was facing.
The Committee said that it is seeking new, formal assurances that DfT and HS2 have the capability to manage the programme and its supply chain, into construction and through to completion.
Although the Government has now committed to six-monthly reporting to Parliament on the programme, it has not set out what the reports will cover.
As the main benefit of HS2 is to soak away intercity traffic from regional railways so that there is more space for commuter trains, the report said that there was still a lack of attention given to how HS2 will work with the existing railway infrastructure, particularly once it gets past Birmingham.
The Committee has instructed the DfT and HS2 to write back explaining how they will address its concerns.
While the report will make for painful reading, it doesn’t itself impair the rationale for HS2 to be built, only that the current project management is lacking necessary skills to ensure that there are no more delays.
If the report causes an apparently necessary shake up in the project management that leads to a better delivery of the railway, then that is to be a good thing.