Following yesterday’s publication of Michael Gove’s merit-based Civil Service reforms, former Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell has responded by claiming the report still won’t stop the approval of “white elephant” projects like HS2, and laid into the government for focusing on “the delivery of targets that miss the point” of achieving optimal outcomes.
Speaking on the Institute for Government Live podcast, O’Donnell said:
“How do we stop someone approving HS2 when on the basis of cost estimates that everyone knows is wildly optimistic…this document is quite heavy on the responsible owner part, which I think is a good thing, but you can be the responsible owner but can be dealing with a project that should never have gotten started. And my god, we end up with some big white elephants…“
Guido’s inclined to agree…
O’Donnell’s also on the money when it comes to government targets. Too often Ministers prioritise input rather than outcomes – like upping the number of police officers rather than trying to reduce crime stats – which, as the Institute for Government’s own report shows, “can create a culture of compliance that discourages innovation and prevents adequate services from excelling“. Gove’s reforms are a start, though there’s still clearly a way to go…
It looks like the Green Party has had a change of heart. Having spent years campaigning against the expansion of national railways, including calling HS2 “an act of ecocide” and “a nightmare project“, Guido was surprised to see the Greens voice their support for the French government’s decision to ban short flights in favour of train rides, tweeting:
“Heavy investment in national rail networks is what made this possible. This is the climate leadership we need to see!”
Having previously opposed said national rail networks on the grounds that they “bulldoze huge areas of natural woodland and cut wildlife habitats“, Guido would love to know when the party plans to announce that it’s reversed its previous position on HS2. Don’t hold your breath.
Once again, the only difference between Westminster and The Thick of It is that nobody in The Thick of It walks around saying ‘this is just like The Thick of It’.
Today Ben Wallace was asked about Boris’s HS2 decision, only to respond by saying “choo choo, choo choo, choo.”. As ever, there’s always a Thick of It quote. Wallace even shares quite a similarity with Steve Flemming…
Last year the Taxpayers’ Alliance announced the winners of the “Great British Transport Competition“ to find popular, better value for money alternatives to HS2. They found 50 transport infrastructure project ideas that were better value for money than HS2. The winning project ideas had construction costs came to £45.1 billion – which is less than half the under-estimated budget for HS2. Ahead of the Cabinet decision on HS2, Guido thought we would list the projects again… eagle-eyed MPs will note the constituencies that will benefit.
Many of the entries required only relatively small sums of money to achieve vast benefits for local communities with the potential for dramatically transforming the transport infrastructure nationally, not only in the Midlands.
|A1 – Dual Carriageway From Durham to Edinburgh||1,300,000,000|
|Reopen the Skipton-Colne Railway Line||100,000,000|
|Reopen the Beverley to York Railway||300,000,000|
|Ashington, Blyth & Tyne Railway||50,000,000|
|Britain’s S-Bahn Network: Leeds||1,000,000,000|
|Reopen the Keswick to Penrith Railway||110,000,000|
|Upgrade The Settle & Carlisle Railway||30,000,000|
|Reopen Blackburn to Hellifield||15,000,000|
|High Speed UK-North||18,100,000,000|
|The Whitacre Link||400,000,000|
|Reopen Stourbridge to Lichfield||120,000,000|
|Upgrade the Rugby to Birmingham Railway Line||1,500,000,000|
|Upgrade the A5 to expressway standard||500,000,000|
|Reopen the Sutton Park Line to passengers||100,000,000|
|Chiltern Main Line Electrification||1,000,000,000|
|Midland Main Line Electrification||5,000,000,000|
|Improve the Felixstowe to Nuneaton Freight Route||1,500,000,000|
|Reopen The March to Wisbech Line to passengers||110,000,000|
|A new station on the Bury St Edmunds to Ely Line||40,000,000|
|Extend Crossrail to Stansted Airport & Cambridge||4,000,000,000|
|Lower Thames Crossing||6,800,000,000|
|Brighton Mainline 2: Sussex Phase||500,000,000|
|Improve Connectivity to Bristol Temple Meads||125,000,000|
|Rebuild Cullompton Station||15,000,000|
|Exeter to Plymouth via Okehampton||500,000,000|
|Reopen the Bodmin to Wadebridge Railway Line||25,000,000|
|Cross Cornwall Rail Link||125,000,000|
|Build cycle paths next to motorways & A-roads||1,820,000,000|
Many of these projects will take only 3 years or less to complete, providing concrete evidence of action on transport which can be delivered before the next election, unlike HS2. Not that Guido is cynically suggesting that electoral calculations should play a role, the projects stand on their own merits…
Download the full details of all the winning projects here.
The journalist who has managed to squeeze the biggest clue towards uncovering the Government’s HS2 decision is ten years-old Braydon Brent. In a sit down interview with the schoolboy, Boris said “in a hole the size of HS2, the only thing to do is keep digging.” Which isn’t quite the phrase…
HS2. Can you explain it please?
Yes I can. 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.
I’m sure with you as Prime Minister, I’m sure you’ll get out of it. Is it a deep hole or is it a small one?
It’s a … in a hole the size of HS2, the only thing to do is keep digging.
That’s what you’ve got to do. It’s a big hole.
Braydon, give Guido a call. we have job opening for a scoop getter like you…
Rumours and reports suggest the government is on the verge of affirming the go-ahead for HS2 before HS3 and blocking or delaying Heathrow’s third runway. This seems to Guido precisely the wrong order of priority. London’s airport capacity is way below what is needed, as anyone who has spent their time in a holding pattern flying around London after a long haul flight knows. HS2 is opposed by many of the new Northern intake of Tory MPs, many of whom would rather spend the billions on local transport projects fixing the lack of connectivity in the North, particularly East-West. Polling shows HS3 is far more popular with voters than HS2.
Guido can’t understand why travelling from Birmingham to London 20 minutes quicker is the priority. Unless Birmingham Airport is to effectively become London’s fourth airport…