HS2 ramps up conflict of interest checks in bidding process revamp after CH2M contract controversy

Rebecca Smith
How the HS2 trains are expected to look when built
How the HS2 trains are expected to look when built (Source: HS2)

HS2 plans to bolster measures to tackle potential conflicts of interest by June, developing stricter bidding processes for firms hoping to win contracts on the £56bn project.

HS2 told City A.M. it is pulling together checks to make sure the recent CH2M saga, where the company withdrew its interest after concerns were raised over conflicts of interest, is a lone occurrence. The changes will be vetted at a June board meeting of the HS2 Ltd team.

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An HS2 spokesperson said: "We're looking at a range of options including keeping a record of where staff go when they leave HS2 Ltd, requiring bidders to declare everyone who works on their bid team and applying this retrospectively to current live procurement exercises."

Once the proposals have been approved by the board in June, HS2 will publish an updated supplier guide setting out the new requirements.

This will all be in addition to the bidders' existing responsibility to declare conflicts of interest, contained within the current setup. Legal responsibility will still rest with the bidders and HS2 will retain the right to disqualify any bidder that breaks those rules.

The extra scrutiny comes after controversy surrounding a £170m development partner contract that American firm CH2M had initially been announced as the preferred bidder for.

A whistleblower alerted rival bidder Mace to a potential conflict of interest, which later led to CH2M withdrawing its interest.

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HS2 chairman David Higgins was grilled by the Transport Select Committee on the matter last week, where he said that while the tendering process was "standard practice", HS2 did intend to make disclosure processes stricter.

"We do intend to tighten it up following this exercise. In future we will say you need to disclose to us who you intend to use on your tendering," Higgins said last week. "It will give us more of a chance to be able to scrutinise this ourselves."

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