HS2 Ltd’s lack of independence from Government makes it impossible for the country’s key influencers on high speed rail to have a productive and informed debate about the potential impact of a new network, warns an independent report published today. High Speed Rail: Is Everyone on Board? report summarizes the views of key stakeholders from public and private sectors, including supporters and opponents, who are concerned about Government’s ability to see the whole project through to completion.
Many respondents felt that the Government has not explained how its high speed rail proposals fit within wider transport or economic strategies. The report warns that without overt clarification of that strategic objective, raising investment cash from business will be almost impossible and the taxpayer will be left footing the whole upfront cost if the line if it does get approved by Parliament.
However, under the current leadership, approval or rejection of any high speed rail line is unlikely to be confirmed quickly and could still cost billions, as former Transport Minister Paul Clark explains: “The real danger is that because the existing structures are not fit for purpose, MPs will not be prepared for voting when a Bill is laid before the House and high speed rail will get caught in the Parliamentary approval process for decades, in the way that Crossrail did, using up taxpayers money on bureaucracy, appraisals and MPs’ time investigating the case for their areas.”
Many respondents felt let down by HS2 Ltd as Government communications expert Katrina Krishnan Doyle explains: “Responsibility for educating MPs and UK taxpayers should fall to HS2 Ltd. However, the company has become overrun with seconded civil servants from the Department for Transport who are forbidden from speaking openly about their work by the Civil Service Code. As such, no one in the organisation can proactively address the concerns of UK taxpayers or would-be private investors, making the whole point of its independence defunct.”
The belief that HS2 Ltd should never have been allowed to become so government-centric was expressed strongly by respondents, especially now it’s moving into the decision making phase of the development process. It should have been set up to incorporate public, private and third sector interests and a leader like John Armitt or David Higgins would have been more fitting for what is claimed to be a national and economic imperative. Investigating regeneration and investment opportunities should also have been part of its remit.
There is some time to right this balance and reintroduce proactive and informative debate at a national level without undermining the good work the company has already done. However, the report also highlighted fundamental challenges at a regional and local level, now that the Regional Development Agencies have been disbanded, that will prevent local communities from realising the full regeneration benefits of the network if it is approved.
As inward investment and regeneration specialist Michael Ward explains: “Removing the RDAs has left a gaping hole that Local Enterprise Partnerships are ill-equipped to fill. However, even if the RDAs were in place they would be incapable of marketing opportunities to the local and international business community because Government hasn’t set out a clear economic and spatial strategy for the proposed network.”
In total, Clark, Doyle & Ward interviewed 55 key influencers including former Transport Secretary Lord Adonis. The report makes nine specific recommendations to politicians and officials in Government (listed below) that detail the steps they need to take to ensure a decision can be reached quickly and that money and time aren’t wasted as a result of delays.
- Establish an HSR Cabinet Sub-Committee for Departmental Ministers
- Improve MP and Parliamentary engagement
- Examine the hybrid bill process
- Create a cross-Whitehall HSR working Committee for government officials
- Reposition HS2 Ltd independently from Government and enhance its remit
- Introduce a proactive communications campaign
- Clarify the economic case for UK high speed rail
- Strengthen the mechanisms for local development and inward investment
- Identify new cross-sector investment and funding channels
Download a copy of the full report by clicking here.