Why, pundits ask themselves, are the Tories moving towards approving the continuation of the HS2 project? After all, the Astroturfers of Tufton Street, who have such a presence in the corridors of power nowadays, have been urging cancellation - often using highly suspect evidence - for years. Andrew “Transcription Error” Gilligan is supposed to have the Prime Minister’s ear. Many in our free and fearless press are opposed.
But even with all the opposition, and ever more Scary Numbers™ being pitched as to how much it will cost, the signs have been that when the decision is announced - which should have been on Thursday - it will be that HS2 will go ahead, and go ahead basically as designed, the whole Y network. What have the Tories got up their sleeve to placate critics?
Ah well. Here we come to the problem with many in the media, both press and broadcast. There is no specialist knowledge - worse, when specialist knowledge is put before them, it is often ignored or even ridiculed. So when Nigel Harris of Rail magazine set out in a Twitter thread on Thursday how the Tories will sell the decision, he was, yes, ignored.
What he said also explains the apparent enthusiasm of Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid for the scheme, as Jim Pickard of the FT signposted on Wednesday: “Sajid Javid will on Thursday throw his support behind the £88bn High Speed 2 rail scheme, in a decisive intervention which makes it almost certain the project will go ahead”.
Then earlier today, Charlotte Ivers of TalkRADIO observed “A ten year old boy appears to have got a great scoop out of the Prime Minister for Sky News indicating that HS2 will go ahead”. BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg congratulated the young interviewer. “From the mouths of babes... well done Braydon Brent”. Neither of them got the point.
This is what alleged Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson said when asked to explain HS2: “It’s a colossal railway line. Now the truth is, the people who did it spent far too much money, they were profligate with the way they did it. Do you know what I mean by profligate? They just wasted money. And the whole way it was managed was hopeless. So we’re in a hole. We’re in a mess. But we’ve got to get out of it and we need a way forward, so we’re thinking about how to sort it out now”. Whatever did he mean?
Nigel Harris explained that the £106 billion press claim “is the number Oakervee says HS2 COULD get to if the big problems which have driven HS2/Ph1 costs are not dealt with. And the biggest cost driver, in addition to what I've just described, is the contracting/procurement model which Government insisted on for Phase 1. It is beyond insane”.
Why so? “Govt insisted on passing design risk to the contractors. In other words … Govt requires whoever builds HS2 is responsible for design risk for maybe 25 years … I am told this has added one third - yes one third - to costs. On the whole project, this would be around £30bn … This has been reported nowhere in the national media”. Hmmm.
And his conclusion? “I wonder if SJ has cottoned onto to the insane procurement model used for HS2/Ph1 and it is he that has ordered it be dropped for Phases 2A/2B? It would enable the PM to announce that his incisive approach has, within weeks, 'sorted out' this project, knocked heads together and driven the estimated costs down”.
That is what Bozo is referring to when he talks about money being wasted, and the management of the project - which has, of course, happened at the behest of, and under the aegis of, the Government of his own party. But now it seems Sajid Javid has figured out the procurement model in use and, as Nigel Harris surmised, had it canned.
Now Bozo can claim not only that HS2 is going ahead, but that he, and he alone, has taken his axe to costs in order to make it more affordable. Meanwhile, it is clear from the MSM comments that most of them are so clueless on the background that they will just report what Downing Street tells them. Cos it’s technical and difficult, innit?
And so the public still doesn’t get to understand HS2. Because the media doesn’t, either.
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