The prime minister’s office has weighed into the procurement saga surrounding the £170m HS2 phase 2b development partner contract, Construction News can reveal.
A source close to Number 10 told Construction News that Theresa May’s team was keeping close tabs on the unfolding situation and had concerns over how the fallout has been handled.
CH2M was last month announced as preferred bidder for the contract and was expected to sign the deal on 24 February.
But this signing was delayed and Construction News understands that a meeting took place between HS2 and Mace on Friday 3 March, with the client responding to a number of questions over the procurement of the contract.
Commenting on the three contracts CH2M has won on HS2, as well as the HS2 CEO and interim CEO who have both come from the US firm, political blogger Guido Fawkes satirised the situation as a “revolving door” between HS2 and CH2M.
The source told Construction News: “The prime minister’s office is certainly worried about the reputational issue around the ‘CH2M revolving door’ stuff.
“It is all about how it is perceived. HS2 uses public money and it is really politically contentious in Tory seats and they watch it like a hawk; I think that is why they are starting to get worried about it.”
According to the source, potential conflict of interest concerns were flagged up by the government ahead of the contract being awarded last month.
But the source added: “It wasn’t until the media picked up on it and a couple of MPs started asking questions it became something they were worried about.”
The source said that in light of the situation around HS2’s development partner contract, the government was looking more closely at the awarding of major public contracts.
“The government is certainly more concerned about who these contractors are.”
Construction News reported yesterday that Mace and HS2 were set for another round of talks in the coming days over the phase 2b delivery partner contract.
A joint venture between Mace and Turner & Townsend missed out on the deal, having made the shortlist last summer.
Former CH2M European managing director Roy Hill was appointed interim chief executive of HS2 during the procurement process for the phase 2b delivery partner contract.
Mr Hill himself was seconded from CH2M, while former CH2M European managing director Mark Thurston left the company last month ahead of becoming HS2’s next chief executive.
HS2 has maintained that the procurement for the award was the most robust it had carried out and included CH2M enforcing a “Chinese Wall” between its bid team and those already working for HS2.
Transport minister Andrew Jones recently revealed that CH2M had seconded 37 members of staff into HS2, and that 25 of HS2’s current staff members had previously worked for the US engineering gaint.
CH2M also scooped the £100m development partner role for phase one of the £55.7bn project in 2012 and the £350m engineering delivery partner role alongside Atkins and Sener last March.
A spokesman for CH2M told Construction News last month: “As part the bidding process, HS2 required several levels of assurance that the team delivering the phase one programme could not influence the tender for phase two.
“CH2M abided by all required protocols to ensure no conflict of interest.”
HS2 said it would not comment and Number 10 have been contacted for comment.