New report accuses HS2 of 'hiding massive cost' and 'time overruns' from taxpayers and parliament
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Long standing critics of the HS2 project such as Joe Rukin from the 'Stop HS2 Campaign' have said from the beginning the HS2 project has been 'run on lies'.
He further accused the firm of 'hiding the truth' about the costs of the new high speed train and 'misleading parliament'.
He said this amounted to 'malfeasance in public office' and 'fraud'.
Lord Berkley, the author of the 'Dissenting Report into HS2' published earlier this year said this is the first time the Government (through the Department for Transport[DTF]) has set out clearly the failings of the HS2 project and how HS2 have presented 'misleading information to parliament' over the past few years.
Lord Berkley said: “I am pleased that Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has taken steps to investigate HS2, but it is clearly not enough.
"Unfortunately, the report has failed to take into account the even earlier warnings that I, and others, gave the Government several years previously about the cost increases, and the failures of successive ministers to properly inform Parliament.”
The cross-party PAC said it was “not convinced” that the DfT and HS2 Ltd have the skills and capability they need to complete the line linking London with the Midlands and the north of England, which is the government’s largest infrastructure project.
The committee questioned a £46,000 bonus paid last year to HS2 chief executive Mark Thurston on top of his £605,350 salary – the highest of any government official.
The bonus was based in part on success in controlling the scheme’s finances.
Penny Gaines from the Stop HS2 Campaign accused civil servants of 'deliberately and carefully' setting out a 'misleading picture' of the state of the HS2 project.
She added this was to 'push the project through [Parliament] as fast as possible'.
The Department for Transport has however insisted that new arrangements relating to governance of the project introduced by transport secretary Grant Shapps would ensure the project was reigned in, with 'tight control of costs'.
The report found that both DfT and HS2 Ltd were aware of time and cost problems as early as October 2018, and the company formally notified the department the following March that it could not deliver phase one of the programme, between London and Birmingham, on schedule or within budget.
The PAC said it was not before Autumn 2019 that Grant Shapps revealed the initial estimate of £55bn had been way over shot, with costs looking more likely to be nearer to the £100bn mark.
They also announced the first trains would be delayed by as long as seven years.
Despite this, Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave the green light for construction work to begin last April.
The HS2 Ltd annual report and accounts for 2018/19 “failed to give an accurate account” of the project’s plight, making only minor references to “cost and schedule pressures”.
The PAC said there was “no justification” for hiding the scale of the financial crisis, and said the DfT had given “no adequate excuse” for the lack of transparency.
The PAC said that the railway was going to affect many people's lives and livelihoods, and that there was 'no justification for DFT and HS2 being so 'opaque about delays and budget overruns'.
They added the project had gone 'badly off course', and they were not convinced that the price of the project would balloon 'even higher' in the upcoming years.
The report found that this had hugely undermined public confidence in the project, which is set to begin offering rail services between London and Birmingham in 2029.
PAC chair Meg Hillier said the committee was now demanding “an honest, open account and evidence of learning from past mistakes” in regular six-monthly reports from the DfT.
“There is no excuse for hiding the nature and extent of the problems the project was facing from parliament and the taxpayer,” she said.
“The government unfortunately has a wealth of mistakes on major transport infrastructure to learn from, but it does not give confidence that it is finally going to take those lessons when this is their approach.”
A DfT spokesperson said: “The current secretary of state has been clear that this project must go forward with a new approach to parliamentary reporting, with clear transparency, strengthened accountability to ministers, and tight control of costs.
“This includes appointing the first dedicated HS2 minister, bi-annual updates to parliament and establishing a monthly ministerial task force, chaired by the secretary of state, to ensure the project has a rigorous scrutiny like the 2012 Olympics.”