HS2 Fiasco: Should these two top Whitehall figures get the sack for covering it up?

Bernadette Kelly, permanent secretary at the Department for Transport Pic credit: gov.uk
Mark Thurston, the £605,000 a year head of HS2. Pic credit: HS2

The damning report by the Public Accounts Committee out today tells you everything you already knew about HS2 – the high speed rail link from Euston to Birmingham and eventually Manchester and Leeds.

This rail line – at one stage facing being scrapped by Boris Johnson – earned a reprieve despite costs escalating almost out of control from costing £55bn when it was commissioned to an estimated minimum £88 billion today. Even commitments to petitioners against the scheme were wrongly calculated at £245m when the figure is now nearer £1.2 billion .And that may not be the end of the story as costs could still rise while the public will get a much delayed service with fewer trains.

The report also shows there is a huge problem with the redevelopment of Euston station – used by millions of mainline travellers and commuters – which no doubt will create another out of control of budget. We still don’t know the real cost for that.

But what I found really distasteful that Bernadette Kelly, the highly paid permanent secretary at the Department for Transport and Mark Thurston, the UK’s highest paid public official in charge of HS2 – he is on an eyewatering £605,350 salary and got a £46,000 bonus despite not keeping public money under control- conspired to cover up their failings and keep information from the public and Parliament.

The report is quite clear desperate officials were well aware that public money was going down the toilet but decided NOT to tell Parliament and be less than honest in the official annual accounts of HS2 to disguise the mess they faced.

Bernadette Kelly revealed to MPs in March that she had undertaken four separate assessments to see if the project was viable last year – but neglected to tell MPs anything about it when she appeared before them. She claimed it was ” commercial sensitivities ” that held her back.

This is serious stuff. As the report says: ” We are disappointed by the Permanent Secretary’s response to our concerns about her failure to explicitly inform the Committee of the programme’s delays and overspend when asked about the general health of the project.

“This was something that an accounting officer should share with the Committee. Failure of an Accounting Officer to provide accurate information to Parliament is potentially a breach of the Civil Service Code and a breach of Parliamentary Privilege. “

To put it bluntly she may have broken the Civil Service code which lays down the ethics and rules governing how officials should behave and she may have lied to Parliament.

In that case I think there should be an inquiry and if she is found to have behaved as badly as that she should be disciplined or even sacked.

Mark Thurston appears to made sure that his company accounts did not give too many hints of the failure to control money. Why he should have a bonus when his costs went sky high – is a mystery to me. He should pay it back and questions asked whether he is the right man for the job..

I agree with Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP and deputy chair of the committee: “This PAC report on HS2 is one of the most critical, in both the transparency of Government and the handling of a project, that I have seen in my nine years in total on the committee.

“The Permanent Secretary appeared before the committee in October 2018 and again in May 2019. In March 2019 HS2 Ltd formally told the Department it had breached the terms of the Development Agreement, and would be unable to deliver the programme to cost and schedule – yet the Permanent Secretary did not inform the committee on either appearance that the programme was in trouble.

“This is a serious breach of the department’s duty to Parliament and hence to the public, which as the report says, will undermine confidence. Furthermore, the PAC was in the dark about serious cost overruns and was therefore unable to do its duty to inform Parliament that value for money .on the project was at risk.”

The United Kingdom used to be regarded as a world leader in upholding high standards in public life. The actions of these two individuals in trying to cover their tracks is more in line with a banana republic.

10 thoughts on “HS2 Fiasco: Should these two top Whitehall figures get the sack for covering it up?

  1. This is outrageous, these two should be sacked and the HS2 Project scrapped. It is not needed and never has, with the exception of High Powered Business People. There will be less need for this type of travel post Covid. Spend the money on a more worthy infrastructure.

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  2. Thank you,  Westminster  Confidential.Yes indeed, these two vastly overpaid, and untrustworthy, officials should be sacked.Sincerely,Rosemary  Grant.  

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  3. Shock horror!!!!
    Ministers/ Public officials accused of doing something underhand. Let me sit down.

    Doing something legit would be a novelty for the press to report. Amazing Keir Starmer gets slated cos he keeps his mum’s donkey in a field, I couldn’t care less how much the blokes worth. Like he won’t care how little I have.

    These manipulators of the truth are rife throughout power. The rich feather their own nest at best doing little to nothing to get richer. When your in with the big guys they close ranks to protect one another. They have so much dirt on one another they never get challenged.

    Instead of sacking get them to change their vocation in life, living in our world which is planets away from their lifestyle.

    Give them a 12 months out there on the frontline, emptying bed pans, sanitising wards, watching despair and devastation. This might just trigger humility and a feeling of guilt ( yeah as if). They may change their outlook on life and donate all their ill gotten gains to the needy.

    Firstly they will need to buy a dictionary so they can look up needy, humility and despair. The bed pans and sanitising they can Google.

    What a Country we have to be proud of. Run by individuals riddled with greed, selfishness, self centred, evil and pompous. The list could go on for hundreds of pages.

    I’m beyond disgusted David but I’m not surprised .

    The problem we have is to much injustice in this Country. The 50’s women may as well be living on the moon for the notice the government takes of them. They aren’t even worth thinking about, covid will sort them out.

    Bernadette and Mark will get their bezzie mates to cover over all that you have highlighted David, they have to because it makes them all look prats.

    The working class have no illusions of what these people are. I see them every morning at 4.30am on my way to work scuttling down the drains.

    Respect no sorry none from me, punishment will not be dealt in fact the way this government works they will probably be given even higher paid jobs.

    Money talks always has always will

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  4. They should be held accountable for something. Mark Thurston salary is ridiculous and a bonus go with it. HS2 should be scrapped and the money given to WASPI ladies who have been robbed and lied to.

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  5. They will probably receive seats in the Lords or Knighthoods for this? I am sure Sir Keir Starmer will raise the matter – NOT

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  6. The salary and bonus for Mr Thurston are indeed eye watering. HS2 contract unable to come within budget well there’s a surprise. Surely a clause could have been included in the contract outlining that price agreed for works will be the only amount paid. Amen.

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  7. Outrageous fraud with tax payers money. I demand an enquiry. I expect better than this from the British Government. No trust. No confidence.

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  8. yYes they should and any further work on HS2 should be Stopped Until a full PUBLIC INQUIRY Into this Fiasco ,it is a ENVIRONMENTAL DESTRUCTION of our ANCIENT WOODLAND,COUNTRY SIDE and WILDLIFE which will never recover no matter what PROPAGANDA HS2 come out with.THE MONEY SHOULD BE PUT TO LOCAL INFRASTRUCTURE.

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  9. Thank You David! I TOTALLY agree…..HS2 represents an ALL time Low in British Public Life…..it IS Banana Republic Behaviour! How do we get it Shut down once and for ALL?! And the REAL Transport improvements we need undertaken instead?
    Yours sincerely,
    Ali Mills.

    Like

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