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MPs accuse HS2 of ‘defensive communication and misinformation’

HS2’s communication process with members of the public suffers from “defensive communication and misinformation”, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) has said.

A new PACAC report looks at wider lessons to be learned from the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO)’s November 2015 report into a complaint by six families whose community is due to be broken up by HS2 about how HS2 communicated with them.

The report also says that HS2 Ltd has failed to openly and transparently communicate with the public, using consultation events as public relations opportunities and providing generic or inconsistent information.

Bernard Jenkins MP, chair of the committee, said: “There is still a culture of defensive communication and misinformation within this public body and that is not acceptable. 

“Unless those responsible for delivering HS2 understand that first and foremost they serve the public, they will continue to be criticised for having complete disregard for the people, some of them vulnerable, who are impacted by this large-scale infrastructure project.”

The PHSO report found that HS2 failed to respond fully and promptly to a proposal from the families that it would help them relocate to stay together, causing the families unnecessary distress. HS2 Ltd had followed recommendations in the report that it apologise to the families and pay them £10,500 compensation.

However, it has not fulfilled a recommendation that it assess whether further compensation is due, and the results of an independent review of the company’s communication, engagement and complaints handling processes were originally due in February but have been delayed.

Camden Council and Nick Hurd, MP for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner, told the committee that HS2 had failed to engage with members of communities affected by the rail.

The report comes as the third reading of the HS2 Bill in the House of Commons is due today.

Action needed to improve HS2’s communication with public

HS2 has since taken steps to improve its community engagement, holding 21 information events between March and December 2015 and planning a further nine events along the phase 1 route between 13 February and 27 April, and appointing three new senior engagement managers.

HS2 Ltd chief executive, Simon Kirby, said: “We recognise that more needs to be done to improve the way we communicate, and listen to, people affected by the project, and we are pleased that the Committee recognises the progress that has been made since the publication of the PHSO report.”

The PACAC said the criticism of HS2 was widespread and was about more than the pace of change, which HS2 had previously claimed. It also said HS2 had failed to address the complaint that its phase 1 consultations with the public lacked two-way engagement.

Jenkins recommended that HS2 treat responding to former Independent Police Complaints Commissioner Ian Bynoe’s forthcoming recommendations on improving its communication as “a matter of primary importance”.

HS2 Ltd has also improved its complaints process, including introducing an external investigation stage in summer 2014 and named case officers. It has appointed a public response manager and plans to recruit an independent construction commissioner and introduce a small claims scheme.

The HS2 Action Alliance told the committee that the PHSO’s report contained no measures to check that its recommendations were followed and the compensation sum wasn’t large enough, and Stop HS2 said that an independent body should be created to oversee HS2 Ltd and handle complaints.

In a report last month Deborah Fazan, the HS2 Residents’ Commissioner, said that HS2 has made ‘limited progress’ on re-establishing links with communities to share information.

(Image c. HS2 Ltd)



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