Com­pany ‘not fit for pur­pose’ says Stop HS2 cam­paign pro­test­ers

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE -

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

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