Failed at the NHS? Try again at HS2: Newly appointed director at rail project has history of 'wasting public money'

 

One of the most heavily criticised men behind the NHS's IT fiasco has been made a director at High Speed Two, the similarly under fire £50bn railway linking London with the north.

Opponents of HS2, who claim the project is a waste of money and will ruin the countryside, reacted with fury this weekend to an appointment they claimed was a "whitewash" and "hysterical". Patrick O'Connell's appointment comes at a time when HS2 is preparing a public relations charm offensive to spell out the benefits of the project, which will cut journey times between the capital and Birmingham to 49 minutes.

HS2 staff were told late last week that Mr O'Connell will soon join them as their programme and strategy boss, but the only part of his resumé that was referred to was his role as chairman at the Oxford Institute for Megaprojects. Up until the end of last year, Mr O'Connell was a senior figure at Serco, the government contractor that has been forced to go through what it calls "corporate renewal", after failing on a range of taxpayer-funded projects.

As well as only recently leaving what is arguably Britain's most vilified company, Mr O'Connell had two stints as president at BT Health.

He was hauled in front of MPs in 2011 to explain the disastrous overhaul of the NHS IT systems, which included developing a standardised electronic care record for every patient. This programme was said to have wasted £2.7bn of taxpayers' money and was a major factor in BT's £1.6bn write-off two years earlier.

Liberal Democrat MP Ian Swales said at the time that the very public embarrassment was "about the management of some kind of superstructure that is going wrong – badly wrong".

A subsequent report attacked BT Health for being "clearly" overpaid and "unable to deliver against its original contract" – although Mr O'Connell was not in charge when the deal was signed in 2003.

A spokesman for the High Speed Action Alliance, which has criticised the coalition for invoking secrecy laws to suppress what is thought to be a damning report into the railway, said: "Along with the Government's desperate attempts to hide the truth on the parlous state of HS2 as a whole, whitewashing Mr O'Connell's career is another example of how HS2 Ltd and the Government [acts] over the failing project.

"Mr O'Connell's role in the NHS IT contract clearly shows that he is used to spending taxpayer money rather than investing it properly. It is hysterical."

At Serco, Mr O'Connell was president of major programmes for Europe and the UK, charged with improving the operational efficiency of the company. The Cabinet Office only deemed Serco to be fit enough to be again allowed to win public sector work at the end of last month.

This followed a string of high-profile disasters in 2013, most notably Serco's role in the £50m electronic-tagging scandal. The state was charged for the supposed tagging of criminals who were back in prison, and even dead.

An HS2 spokesman said: "Patrick O'Connell's appointment as interim Programme and Strategy Director helps to strengthen the team as we move towards the construction phase."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before