HS2 must change its defensive culture and embrace transparency say MPs

MPs have criticised a culture of “defensive communication and misinformation” at HS2

By Suzannah Brecknell

23 Mar 2016

Improving engagement with the public should be of “primary importance” to HS2 Ltd, MPs have said today, as they found “no evidence” that the agency had achieved the changes required in light of a damning report from the Public and Health Services Ombudsman (PHSO) last year.

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) investigated HS2 after the PHSO judged that failures in communication and complaints handling by the organisation amounted to maladministration.

The PHSO made a number of recommendations, which HS2 accepted and has begun to implement. Among them was the creation of an independent review, chaired by former Independent Police Complaints Commissioner Ian Bynoe, which has now concluded, but not published its report.

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MPs say that the maladministration judgement, as well as evidence heard by PACAC, highlight the need for a “fundamental shift in how HS2 Ltd communicates and engages with the public.” 

However, the committee said it saw “no evidence to suggest that this step change has taken place”.

Bernard Jenkin, chair of PACAC, said: “There is still a culture of defensive communication and misinformation within this public body and that is not acceptable.

“Unless those responsible for delivering HS2 understand that first and foremost they serve the public, they will continue to be criticised for having complete disregard for the people, some of them vulnerable, who are impacted by this large-scale infrastructure project.”

HS2 has attempted to improve communications by producing a newsletter for communities along the route, running a series of local focus groups and communications events, and recruiting 11 officials into “stakeholder communications” roles.

The company has also put in place new complaints handling systems, also welcomed by the committee, but MPs said they cold not “over-state the importance for HS2 Ltd of developing a strong customer focus on the needs of those whose homes and communities are seriously affected by what remains a highly controversial project”.

“We expect HS2 Ltd to prioritise its response to Mr Bynoe’s forthcoming recommendations on communication and engagement and on complaint handling. This is a matter of primary importance for HS2 Ltd and must be treated as such,” the committee adds.

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