The chairman of HS2 Ltd has promised to tighten its bidding process after engineering giant CH2M pulled out of a £170m contract over allegations of a conflict of interest.
Appearing before the Transport Select Committee, Sir David Higgins, chairman of the government-owned company responsible for developing the HS2 rail link, and transport secretary Chris Grayling defended their role in the award of a contract.
Sir David told MPs that a former chief of staff at the company, Christopher Reynolds, who had taken up a role with CH2M, should not have been involved in the bid ‘because he was too close to us’.
However, he said the allegation that Mr Reynolds had written the procurement document was ‘incorrect’ and that he had no influence on the scoring process.
The issue came to light when a whistleblower notified losing bidder MACE that Mr Reynolds had done four days of work with CH2M's bid team for the £170m contract to develop Phase 2b of HS2.
Sir David said that HS2 Ltd had not been informed of this, but should have been, and that CH2M’s claim that Mr Reynolds did not have confidential information and that his role was minimal ‘wasn’t sufficient and wasn’t satisfactory’.
Mr Grayling told MPs: ‘I would argue that the process has worked as you would expect it to.’ He said it was for the bidder to comply with the rules.
However Sir David said that 'in future we intend to do our own more intrusive investigation’.
He claimed the publicity over the row means ‘there wouldn't be a contractor or an engineering firm in the UK now that won't be very very focused on the issue of declaring conflict of interest’.
Mr Grayling said that when he became aware that the contract had been awarded to CH2M, where both the interim chief executive Roy Hill and incoming chief executive Mark Thurston had previously worked, he wanted ‘to make quadruply certain that we were not getting ourselves into difficult territory’.
Sir David confirmed that HS2 has now awarded the contract to second-placed bidder Bechtel.