MP accuses former HS2 chief executive of ‘defrauding taxpayers’

Former HS2 chief executive Simon Kirby has been accused of defrauding taxpayers after the company made £1.7m in unauthorised redundancy payments.

Kirby, now chief operating officer of Rolls-Royce, reportedly received an email from the DfT in April 2016 expressly calling on his organisation not to exceed the civil service limit of £95,000 per person in payments.

Final redundancy packages to some employees reached more than £200,000, prompting controversy within the sector, and pushing chief financial officer Steve Allen to resign last week.

Kirby’s part in the scheme was alleged during a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hearing yesterday when Conservative MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown quizzed Allen along with current chief executive Mark Thurston and permanent secretary Bernadette Kelly.

Clifton-Brown said the former chief executive had “made unauthorised payments that have defrauded taxpayers of £1.7m” and asked what action should be taken. In response, Kelly said she had taken no legal advice but added that there was no plan to take action because Kirby no longer worked at the company.

Committee chair Meg Hillier called the payments “absolutely shocking” and said it was inconceivable that Kirby had not forwarded the email to any other senior official.

The email in question reportedly came from the DfT’s then director-general of HS2 David Prout as a reply to a request for ‘enhanced redundancy’ packages.

In a statement, the former executive denied the allegations, adding that he was not responsible for approving the payments.

He 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.

“While I do not recall whether I forwarded one specific email from David Prout 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.”

Thurston, the current chief executive, used the committee to apologise for the company’s handling of the issues.

“We got this wrong as a company,” he explained. “We proceeded with this scheme when we should not have done.”

The packages were part of a “fundamental restructuring” of HS2, as the organisation moved its headquarters from London to Birmingham and transitioned the project from the development phase to delivery.

There have been a number of senior level staff changes within the company over the past year. Last month saw former development director Paul Griffiths take over as phase 2 managing director following the departure of Alison Munro in August.

Top image: Parliament.tv

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Stratfan   31/10/2017 at 13:35

Surely Mr Kirby should be called to give evidence

Sandy   31/10/2017 at 15:54

It is well beyond time that Directors, Police Officers and Ministers can escape giving evidence just because they have moved on. Criminal defendants don't have that 'get out of Jail card' so why should execs?

Nick   31/10/2017 at 22:50

Agreed; and Christopher Reynolds, the former Chief of Staff at HS2 Ltd who briefed CH2M for 4 days on how to bid for contracts should be investigated as to whether he broke the Official Secrets Act. Each scandal is steadily killing HS2 off; there may come a time when axeing HS2 has less political risk than having to deal with incessant blunders and impropriety

Andrew   01/11/2017 at 10:51

There is a wider problem here. This kind of behaviour is ingrained throughout HS2 Ltd. They seem to have a brief to push it past the point of no return as quickly as possible but as a consequence they are cutting corners and making mistakes which are coming to light too early. The next major "scandal" is likely to be how they selected the M18 Eastern Route for Phase 2b.

Graham Nalty   01/11/2017 at 11:38

The choice of the M18 Eastern Route does seem to have been simply bringing out old original route choices and not researching what has happened since then. it would seem logical to route all the Leeds trains via Sheffield and all the York trains via Doncaster. it may seem a long time ago, but HS2 Ltd. was set up first to determine whether a business case could be made for building a high speed line. Given that brief, the simplest way to do this is to lump as many as possible 'journeys to London' on to HS2 and make the speed as high as possible to save the maximum number of minutes for the Benefit to Cost figures. Although this does not deliver what the country really needs, HS2 Ltd. has continued to work on this basis making decisions based on playing the figures. The idea of parkway stations smacks of 'journey to London' priorities rather than growing the regions of the North. By making it easy to commute out of a region whilst hindering access to major city centres, parkway stations in reality will draw the economic lifeblood out.

Andrew   01/11/2017 at 13:58

Yes, they really have been playing the figures. They started with the original "Meadowhall" route and then published the M18 Eastern route. They then stated that the latter route would be less cost and 50% fewer demolitions. What they did not say was the the comparison was against the "refined Meadowhall Route" which they didn't publish. This route seems to deliberately increase costs and demolitions to give a favourable impression of the M18 Eastern Route. So they did a public consultation on 2 routes, one of which was secret and unpublished. How do you think the residents of the Shimmer Estate will feel when they realise that their home are being demolished because HS2 Ltd lied? Also, HS2 will inevitably draw the lifeblood out of the outlying regions. It's a proven fact that if you link 2 commercial centres with high speed rail, the more dominant will gain at the expense of the lesser.

Mark Hare   06/11/2017 at 11:15

Let us hope that Conservative MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown has never made an inappropriate expenses claim or furnished a second home at taxpayers' expense, but of course MPs are known for their honesty and integrity aren't they!? Those who live in glass houses, etc....

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