HS2 executives to face grilling by MPs over unauthorised redundancy payouts

Rebecca Smith
How HS2 could look once complete
How HS2 could look once complete (Source: HS2)

Senior executives at state-funded high speed rail group HS2 will today face a grilling by MPs over significant unauthorised redundancy payouts that were revealed in a National Audit Office report back in July.

HS2's chief executive Mark Thurston, and the rail group's outgoing chief financial officer Steve Allen who said last week he will be stepping down, will be questioned by the Public Accounts Committee about why large redundancy payments were made without the appropriate permissions.

In the NAO's audit of HS2's 2016-2017 accounts in July, it found that HS2 was making payments totalling £2.76m, of which £1.76m was not appropriately authorised. The Comptroller and Auditor General subsequently qualified the accounts.

Read more: HS2 chief financial officer steps down after unapproved redundancy payouts

HS2 executives will also be questioned on what will be done to satisfy the C&AG's qualification on the audited accounts.

Last Tuesday, Allen announced he will leave HS2 at the end of the financial year, saying: "The weaknesses highlighted by the NAO report resulted in both the HS2 executive and board being misinformed about the status of critical approvals for redundancies.

"Those assurances were given by teams for which I was responsible, and, obviously, I regret that."

Allen said that whilst HS2 is now putting in place the measures to "strengthen financial governance systems and to provide robust financial stewardship for the company", he felt now was the time to move on.

Simon Kirby, now chief operating officer at Rolls-Royce, was at the helm when the publicly funded redundancy regime was proposed, with HS2 making commitments of £2.76m, and the NAO estimating the £1.76m of that being unapproved.

Thurston was appointed chief executive of the £56bn rail project in January this year.

Head of the NAO, Sir Amyas Morse, said in the July report, that the firm's actual scheme terms "remained unapproved and were further enhanced beyond civil service rates".

Read more: Crossrail 2 boss says London can't cope with extra passengers from HS2

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