DID HS2 DEFRAUD TAXPAYER OF £1.76M?
Company ‘not fit for purpose’ says Stop HS2 campaign protesters
THE former chief executive of HS2 has denied “any allegation of wrongdoing” after being accused of defrauding the taxpayer of £1.76 million when unauthorised redundancy payments were made by the rail group.
Simon Kirby failed to act on orders from the Department for Transport (DfT) that the scheme should be restricted to statutory levels, the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee (PAC) heard.
Furious HS2 protestors accused HS2 of “running their own gravy train with their snouts in the trough of taxpayers’ money”.
The PAC hearing on Monday was told that a National Audit Office (NAO) report into HS2 Ltd’s 2016/17 accounts found it had made payments totalling £2.76m, of which £1.76m was not appropriately authorised.
In a statement issued after Monday’s hearing, Mr Kirby said: “I have had no contact from either the NAO or DfT on the audit of HS2’s accounts and redundancy payments.
“I left HS2 in December last year and the decision to make senior managers redundant, and under what terms, was not made until after I left. I did not approve the payments at issue and deny any allegation of wrongdoing.”
Tory MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown told the PAC: “Mr Kirby was the chief accountable officer at the time and the steward of the taxpayer’s money, responsible for this excess payment of £1.76m – surely there is an element of fraud involved here and should not action be taken against Mr Kirby for carrying out those actions?
“Mr Kirby was paid £750,000, he has made unauthorised payments which have defrauded the taxpayer of £1.76m.”
Mr Kirby, now chief operating officer at aerospace giant Rolls-Royce, was chief executive of HS2 when it made a request in April 2016 to give staff enhanced payments.
A senior DfT official instructed him that no such agreements would be approved, but there is no evidence suggesting this message was passed on within the company, the NAO found.
Mr Kirby said: “While I do not recall whether I forwarded one specific email from David Prout (former director general of the High Speed 2 Group at the DfT) to others within HS2, the issue of statutory severance was well known within HS2 and I recall regular contact between HS2 and DfT – at a number of levels – on this specific issue.”
Redundancy compensation worth one month’s salary per year’s service was agreed with outgoing staff to coincide with the company moving its headquarters from London to Birmingham.
The statutory standard is roughly one week’s pay per year depending on age and length of employment. Some staff were even offered paid leave to top up their exit packages above the £95,000 civil service compensation scheme limit.
Penny Gaines, chairman of campaign group Stop HS2, said: “This NAO report is yet more evidence of HS2 Ltd running their own gravy train with their snouts in the trough of taxpayers’ money.
“What’s more it points to a company culture which is willing to let the Department of Transport be misled about excessive payments to HS2 staff and then alter the evidence.
“Right from the start HS2 Ltd acted like a law unto themselves, ignoring the public. Now it seems they ignore direct instructions from the Department for Transport as well.
“This is a company which is simply not fit for purpose.”
Former HS2 Chief Executive Simon Kirby denied any allegations of wrongdoing when he appeared before the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee on Monday