Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee publishes report: Follow up to PHSO Report of an investigation into a complaint about HS2 Ltd.
There are fundamental problems with the way that HS2 Ltd communicates with residents affected by their plans, and the way that they handle complaints subsequently made by those residents. So says the report from the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee in their follow-up report into a recent PHSO investigation into HS2 Ltd’s conduct.
In 2015 a PHSO report dealt with a group of six families whose small community faced break-up under Government plans for the new high speed rail network. The report identified a series of failings in communication and engagement and in complaints handling which amounted to "maladministration" in the opinion of the Ombudsman.
This was then followed, on 22 February, by the final report of the HS2 Bill Committee, which heard nearly 1600 petitions from members of the public for changes to the HS2 Phase One Bill. As a result, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee remain unconvinced that the necessary changes, identified some time ago, in the way HS2 Ltd engages with the public, have ever taken place.
Chairman of the Committee, Bernard Jenkin MP, says:
"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. We expect HS2 Ltd to prioritise its response to Ian 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 report says that what should have been consultation events were in fact turned into public relations exercises, and the information that was made available to the public was either too generic to be of use or was inconsistent. The process was treated as a one way 'box-ticking' exercise by HS2 Ltd, with no genuine two-way engagement. In future, members of the public dealing with HS2 Ltd should never have to go through the same experiences as those whose homes and communities were affected by Phase One.