Some observers of the continuing arguments over the HS2 project may have felt a sense of déjà vu this morning, as a report has appeared in the Independent asserting “The wrong side of the tracks: Lobbyists for HS2 rail line funded by the taxpayer”. Taxpayer-funded lobbying, eh? Where have we heard that one before? And what is the connection here?
What is not in question is that two staff from Westbourne Communications, which offers a skill set that includes lobbying, have been seconded to HS2 Limited, the company which is developing and promoting HS2. The company is wholly owned by the Department for Transport (DfT). This has been sufficient for our old friends the HS2 Action Alliance (HS2AA), named because it doesn’t want any action, to cry foul.
On top of the secondments, HS2 Ltd paid Westbourne £80,000 in the year to July. And the DfT has paid Westbourne £24,000. So the shout has gone up: this is held to have been taxpayer funded lobbying. Government, or Government owned company, pays firm that does lobbying. Therefore Government is paying said firm to lobby it, and hence the conclusion.
Where we have heard this one before is with the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), who, back in August 2009, produced another in their series of dubiously researched “reports” detailing £38 million of payments by Government to firms which, like Westbourne Communications, offered a skill set that included lobbying. But there was a problem with the TPA’s logic.
Nobody argued that the payments were made, but what the TPA did not demonstrate is what the payments were for. The firms concerned did not just perform lobbying. The TPA did not show what even one of the payments was actually for. At the time, Mick Fealty of Slugger O’Toole fame called out the TPA, to subsequent amusement as Matthew Sinclair failed to address the issue.
But the TPA is not present on this occasion, so why is their “dodgy dossier” mentioned? Ah well. The TPA and HS2AA worked closely together on attacking HS2, with the latter being heavily promoted in the TPA’s knocking copy. And HS2AA was no stranger to the kind of easy dishonesty that characterises TPA propaganda, with the “Bradford is bigger than Edinburgh” whopper a prime example.
Today’s Indy piece is just recycling the TPA’s “taxpayer funded lobbying” line – no proof of such a practice is offered, save the usual nudge-nudgery, and none will be – along with accusations that the Westbourne secondments amount to the same thing, which will also not be backed up with any evidence. So into the maelstrom of lame knocking copy is thrown a little more. Nobody should be surprised.
And the main reason for HS2 – capacity – is not addressed. That’s not good enough.