HS2 chief leaves civil service for Oxford post

David Prout announces departure a month after legislation for £56bn project's first phase gets Royal Assent

By Richard Johnstone

31 Mar 2017

The civil servant leading the High Speed 2 rail project is to leave the Department for Transport to take up a top post at Oxford university.

David Prout, who has been the director general of the High Speed 2 Group at the DfT since January 2013, will take on the post of pro-vice-chancellor for planning and resources at the university, and will lead the organisation’s institutional and strategic planning, as well as overseeing its building programme.

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In a statement, the DfT said Prout, who will remain in place until the summer, had been “instrumental in driving forward HS2 from the drawing board to construction and championing Europe’s largest infrastructure project across a complex network of stakeholders, partners and local communities”.

The statement added: “David will continue leading his strong, talented and motivated team until the end of June through more important milestones including the start of HS2 works in spring. During this time a permanent successor will be found.”

Prout’s previous roles in the civil service include director general of localism at the Department for Communities and Local Government and principal private secretary to the deputy prime minister.

Accepting his new role, Prout said: “I'm looking forward to meeting everyone and working with the academic community, colleges and university administration services to help make the best university in the world even better. The next few years will be tough, but by working together – and in particular with central government and the city council – we can come through them stronger and better equipped to pursue the university's brilliant academic mission.”

In an interview with CSW only weeks before his departure was announced, Prout was bullish about the prospects for HS2, saying Royal Assent given to the HS2 (Phase 1) bill at the end of February was the beginning of the hard work.

“The leader of one local authority said to me: ‘You're over the finishing line!’ My answer was: ‘No, we’re at the start line,’” Prout said when he spoke to CSW in a first floor meeting room at the DfT’s Westminster offices. “That’s really where we are. We’ve got the legislative consent to build the thing and actually we've done a huge amount of preparatory work in terms of the practicalities of building the railway, but it’s really now that the hard work begins.”

He insisted that, with the London-to-Birmingham part of the HS2 network due for completion in 2026, the scheme could be delivered both on time and to budget.

“I think it can be delivered on time, so the key thing is to deliver it on budget,” he states. “We've got 10 years to deliver it, more or less. Projects of a similar size have been delivered across the world in comparable or shorter periods so we definitely can get it done. The real focus of everybody at the moment is on budget.

“At the moment it is well within our capacity to deliver on time and that’s what we are expecting to do,” he said. “But it’s a long time between now and then.”

The wider HS2 project budget of £56bn includes phase 2a of the scheme, which will extend the line from the West Midlands to Crewe, and phase 2b which will add further extensions from Crewe to Manchester and the West Midlands to Leeds. The budget is based on 2015 costings, and includes rolling stock. 

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