HS2 Ltd has hired a new finance director as the rail company faces questions over ’unauthorised’ redundancy payouts of £1.76M.
Crossrail’s finance and analysis director Elizabeth Gillbe will join HS2 in January next year. It was revealed by chief executive Mark Thurston as he was quizzed by MPs on the payouts in front of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). Also being questioned were outgoing chief financial officer Steve Allen, and permanent secretary at the Department for Transport (DfT) Bernadette Kelly.
Thurston told the committee: ”She’s got pedigree from Crossrail and she has worked in the Major Projects Authority infrastructure environment. We think we’ve got a good hire there, she comes with a lot of good experience. I’ve nothing to think that we’re not making the right decision with these people. These are really key positions for us as a company, so it’s important we get the right people who can grow, both individually and professionally, with the life of the programme.”
He added, “I would expect us to fully maximise Elizabeth’s experience, and the experience of all the other staff who hopefully will join us in due course, once Crossrail is finished.”
HS2 Ltd recently announced Allen is to leave the organisation. The announcement came months after the National Audit Office warned of redundancy payments on the megaproject which didn’t have necessary approvals.
Last month Allen spoke of his “regret” over assurances made to the board over redundancies and said it was “appropriate” for him to move on at the end of the financial year.
NAO auditor general Sir Amyas Morse said in July that HS2 made £1.76M of redundancy payments in 2016/17 that were unauthorised by the government. His report said there was a need for improvements in the company’s general control environment
In a discussion on the redundancy payouts on Monday, the PAC heard that former chief executive Simon Kirby was told that requests for an enhanced redundancy scheme had been declined by the DfT when the organisation made a series of compulsory and voluntary redundancys before it’s headquarters relocation to Birmingham last year.
In the committee meeting on Monday afternoon it was confirmed that the payments would not be recouped by the taxpayer.
It also emerged that a presentation to the DfT in February last year did not reference enhanced terms at HS2, however the same presentation was submitted to the National Audit Office in February this year “with an additional slide illustrating enhanced redundancy terms inserted”.
Thurston said: ”As I have said, we have identified two documents that were changed between 2016 and 2017, both from the same individual.
”As I have said, it is the same individual who appears to have done that. The review we have done around that particular individual’s emails and files points to that being the only incident.
”We are fully aware of that and we hope that once we close that review, it will prove that that is the extent of this issue. It does not point to any wider issue within the company.”