Politicians have attacked the appointment of Margaret Thatcher’s former private secretary to the role of overseeing construction complaints against the HS2 line.
MPs questioned the selection of Sir Mark Worthington – who spent nearly two decades working as Baroness Thatcher’s top adviser – to the post, claiming he lacked the experience needed for the job.
MP for Hampstead and Kilburn Tulip Siddiq told Construction News: “To have appointed someone with no discernible experience in the issues relating to HS2 construction is an insult to those who have registered urgent complaints about the scheme and its consequences for local life.”
Sir Mark began the role as the new independent construction commissioner yesterday after being unveiled by the Department for Transport in late July.
The commissioner’s role is to independently investigate complaints made during the project’s construction that are not resolved through HS2’s own processes.
A DfT spokesman hit back at the criticism, stating that Sir Mark was appointed through a fair and open competition that was in line with public appointment rules.
The spokesman added: “He brings a wealth of experience to the role and understands the key issues ahead as we look to begin construction of phase one in 2019.”
CN looks at the major pressure points the line has faced on the road to main construction.
The recruitment information pack sent out to candidates in February, and seen by CN, listed a series of desirable criteria for the role.
These included: awareness of construction legislation; experience or understanding of major projects; understanding or ability to understand issues relating to HS2 construction; and a knowledge of local authority organisations, procedures and requirements.
The desirable criteria also list experience of a corporate environment, awareness of alternative disputes resolution techniques, and a background in engineering or similar.
Sir Mark was private secretary for Baronness Thatcher from 1992 until her death in 2013.
Since 2013 he has worked as a business consultant specialising in government, public affairs and international advice, as well as serving as chairman for the Freedom Association – a centre-right pressure group that campaigns for libertarian values.
Shadow Cabinet secretary Jon Trickett added to the voices questioning Sir Mark’s appointment, telling CN: “It is deeply worrying that someone who appears not to have the relevant experience has been appointed to this key role.”
The part-time role construction commissioner role involves three-year terms, with the government paying £450 a day for no more than eight days work per month.
Gareth Epps, who Sir Mark has replaced in the role, was appointed in July 2016. Mr Epps spent more than nine years at Crossrail as community relations policy manager before taking on the HS2 role.
Crossrail’s current independent complaints commissioner Stephen Jolly spent more than five years as transport stakeholder relations manager for the Olympic Delivery Authority before taking on the Crossrail job.
The HS2 role of construction commissioner is overseen by an independent steering group that includes members from Camden, Buckinghamshire and Warwickshire councils, as well as CECA chief executive Alasdair Reisner and HS2 and DfT officials.
The appointment of Sir Mark was made by three members of the steering group: HS2 programme director Mike Lyons, DfT deputy director of land and property for high-speed rail Thomas Barry, and HS2 programme manager for Warwickshire Council Sara-Louise Lee.
In an interview with The Sunday Times this weekend, former foreign secretary Boris Johnson called on the government to pause HS2 in favour of prioritising the construction of northern rail links.
Mr Johnson joined leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom in calling for the £55.7bn line to be halted.
According to The Times, Mrs Leadsom questioned whether HS2 should go ahead at a Cabinet meeting last week, citing the project’s finances as a significant concern.
Pointing to Mr Johnson’s comments, Labour’s Mr Trickett said: “As HS2 enters a critical phase, and with Tory ministers now calling for it to be cancelled, we need decisive leadership underpinned by the proper expertise.”