After the InterCity West Coast (ICWC) re-franchising had to be binned, there was inevitably going to be pressure on the HS2 project, if only because both exercises are being undertaken by Government, and there are plenty of groups out there who want less of that, especially the dubiously talented array of non-job holders at the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), who were on the attack in short order.
Too much guff from Tufton Street
Chief non-job holder Matthew Sinclair took personal charge, such was the significance of the opportunity. “Transport Ministers face new questions about cost of HS2 after West Coast franchise fiasco” read the headline. But HS2 is not a franchising exercise – it’s firstly a construction project. Operational matters come later, but that does not deter Sinclair.
“Concerns have now been renewed that the Government is proceeding with the HS2 project on the back of similarly-flawed assumptions and calculations” asserts Sinclair, while failing to understand that what scuppered the ICWC business was the correct calculation of the amount that First Group needed to deposit with the DfT in lieu of potential default, which is a different matter entirely.
So what is Sinclair going to do about it? “Our Chief Executive has today written to Mr McLoughlin outlining the questions that the Department for Transport must answer”. Fighting talk, then. Well, that was six days ago, and this morning the Independent has an exclusive interview with new Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, and if anything, he can’t wait to get HS2 moving.
The minister “dismissed suggestions that the Department for Transport's financial modelling errors behind last week's West Coast Main Line debacle would undermine High Speed Two”, and in my book rightly so. And he “also indicated that there would be no significant compromises on the published HS2 route between London and Birmingham”, so no more ground yielded to the back benches, then.
Moreover, McLoughlin seems keen not only to fast track HS2, starting with bringing forward the necessary legislation in the next Queen’s Speech with the intention of making a start before 2015, but also to publish the route of the next stage of the project, which will take it to Manchester on one spur, and to Leeds and beyond on another. He’s not for backing down, it seems.
In fact, McLoughlin is even looking to build cross party support for the project, observing that Labour are in favour of proceeding. That means that he has consigned the TPA’s letter, and its views, to the bin. After all, businesses across the country, and notably those who need to move goods and therefore need capacity to do so, are overwhelmingly in favour of HS2.
So that’s another glorious failure for the TPA. Well done Matthew Sinclair!