HS2 boss David Higgins and transport secretary Chris Grayling to face grilling from MPs as Bechtel named for controversial £170m contract

Rebecca Smith
How HS2 should look when completed
How HS2 should look when completed (Source: HS2)

Transport secretary Chris Grayling and HS2 Ltd chairman Sir David Higgins are set to face a grilling by MPs today over the handling of a controversial contract that has seen a winning bidder withdraw its interest.

Yesterday, engineering giant Bechtel was named by HS2 as its preferred supplier for the £170m development partner contract, after original winner CH2M pulled out last month, citing "protracted delays and ongoing speculation".

Read more: HS2 suppliers want the government to tap into high speed rail export market

HS2 said it was confident Bechtel was "able and prepared to deliver the contract on time, on budget, and to a high standard".

The fresh appointment will face heightened scrutiny later today with the Transport Committee holding a session to investigate the latest developments. Chair of the Committee, Louise Ellman, said: "HS2 has the potential to deliver significant benefits. As with any investment of this size, however, it is essential that it is managed effectively.

The withdrawal of CH2M from a major HS2 contract raises several questions which must be answered. We will be asking the secretary of state and Sir David Higgins to explain the circumstances behind CH2M’s withdrawal and what lessons need to be learnt.

The initial contract award stirred up controversy as concerns were raised over the movement of staff between HS2 and CH2M. HS2 appointed CH2M managing director for Europe Mark Thurston as its new boss at the beginning of the year, causing questions over a potential conflict of interest and a "revolving door" between the operations.

Thurston replaced Roy Hill, who was seconded from CH2M too, while former HS2 chief of staff Christopher Reynolds has taken a role at the US firm.

In February, it was announced that British firm Mace, which pitched alongside Turner & Townsend in a joint venture, and Bechtel, which pitched in a separate bid, were beaten to the contract to work on the second phase of the HS2 route, by American engineering consultancy CH2M.

Mace queried the awarding of the contract and HS2 delayed the process to meet the company for talks.

The British engineering firm has since called for the entire procurement process to be rerun and has threatened legal action over the situation.

A Mace spokesperson has said: "It is quite remarkable that HS2 thinks they can simply brush this debacle under the carpet, when there is such a long list of questions to be answered from us, the public and parliament."

Read more: HS2 boss and Chris Grayling to face MPs as another contract is scrapped

It comes after City A.M. revealed earlier this month another smaller contract had been scrapped and was being rerun in a fresh headache for HS2.

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