New evidence has revealed that government ministers and the bosses of HS2 knew that Britain's largest and most costly infrastructure project in decades was already well over budget years ago.
HS2 is now under construction and the new high-speed railway is meant to link London, Birmingham, and the North. It was initially set to cost £55.7bn but last July an internal review warned it was going to cost roughly £30bn more, putting the figure at around the £85bn mark and maybe even £100bn when all is finally finished.
Yet only a month ago, the previous Transport Minister, Nusrat Ghani MP, "confidently" stated in parliament that the project would deliver on budget and on time, stating boldly, "There is only one budget for HS2 and it is £55.7bn".
Now the current Transport Minister, Grant Shapps, has officially raised the expected cost estimate to £88bn and announced the project will take five years longer than promised. Completion is now not expected until 2040.
It was only recently discovered that, in April 2016, Andrew Bruce, a senior figure in the HS2 organisation, had intended to give a presentation to the Department for Transport. He was to outline a massive miscalculation in the budget over valuations for the land and property that was required for purchase in order to build the railway. This meeting never happened.
Months later, a critical vote on the budget of HS2 took place in parliament. MPs were given a substantially lowered cost estimate for the project. The price of the land and property listed for purchasing in order to build the rail link had been costed at just £2.8bn. However Mr Bruce's calculation put the real figure at £2bn higher.
Early property cost estimates only included 5,500 of the properties intended for purchase for phase one of the project, however the actual number of properties listed to be purchased was 11,420. Consequently, over half of the properties were excluded from the cost estimate.
To make things worse, 1,600 of these properties had a cost estimate of under £1,000! Mr Bruce remarked, "I was seeing blocks of flats in central London for £500… Houses and gardens in Euston for £600. It went on for page, after page, after page".
Andrew Bruce was determined to present his findings to senior managers and civil servants but instead moments before the April meeting he was fired. When he protested he was escorted from the building.
Around a week later he received a letter claiming his performance had been "unsatisfactory". However, Mr Bruce had never been given a performance review and had surpassed all of his targets.
In addition, Doug Thornton, who was director of Land and Property at HS2, was also fired in December 2015 after failing to use an outdated and misleading cost estimate. He says he consistently reported to government ministers that the infrastructure project was going to be over budget. Farcically, last year the National Audit Office investigated these allegations and still failed to see that HS2 had done anything wrong.
Two former directors at HS2 have also claimed that senior figures in the company concealed the actual cost of the project.
HS2busts budget by £22bn— David ?? ?️? (@cordeiro876) September 4, 2019
The high speed 2 rail link could cost the taxpayer an extra £22 billion + be seven years late, MPs were told yesterday ?? pic.twitter.com/T11614klt4
Workers pay the bill
At the same time, against a backdrop of government budgets spiralling out of control, contractors have been cutting costs at workers’ expense. Last March, Bowercross Construction Ltd (BCL), who supply contract workers for the Euston HS2 terminal site, was seen to be failing to give workers their correct overtime rates and entitlement for holiday pay, leaving them over £100 a week out of pocket.
Unite the Union won a successful battle to get the workers their correct overtime rates and holiday pay. However they are still in an ongoing fight to get adequate access to workers during their breaks, with employers continuing to block union officials' access.
For a planned economy
It is nothing new for civil servants and government ministers to manoeuvre, through backroom conversations and shady dealings, to ensure the truth is not exposed. Government ministers have knowingly misled parliament to safeguard their own political ambitions, whilst simultaneously handing out contracts to companies who fail to pay workers their correct entitlement of overtime and holiday pay.
Large-scale infrastructure projects like this one should be able to provide good skilled jobs, better-connected communities and improved sustainable transport. However, as the HS2 saga shows, under capitalism they become a vehicle for corporate greed. They expose the ineptitude and deceitful nature of government ministers pursuing their own narrow ends, instead of delivering a suitable solution for the benefit of ordinary people.
Only under socialism can we carry out enormous infrastructure projects, such as HS2 and the troubled CrossRail scheme, through a proper democratic plan that meets society’s needs whilst simultaneously providing good jobs and decent services.