No minister

(I am sure that you will realise that this blog was written before Ms Greening was moved aside to make way for the construction of a new runway– or so Boris says – but I couldn’t resist posting it just the same. Let’s just say that it is my way of bidding a fond farewell to the right honourable lady for Putney, Roehampton and Southfields).

Just about the time that the shocking revelation that the DfT had suppressed the Mott MacDonald SPURT research had been reported in the media, Justine Greening was called upon to re-open a “new look” Southampton Central Station. A short item covering this visit was included in the ITV Meridian Tonight news programme on the evening of 11th June.

Although the item is primarily about the station revamp, the Meridian Transport Correspondent, Mike Pearse, could not resist taking the opportunity to tackle the Transport Secretary about the developments regarding the SPURT report and the business case. About half-way through his piece we hear him voice-over the following:

“Meanwhile there’s a new row today over HS2, the £32 billion line through Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire. It’s claimed ministers ignored a report they commissioned, which said that the economic benefits were not as good as they’d been claiming.”

The video then cuts to Justine Greening and we hear her say:

“It’s absolutely value for money! That’s one of the considerations that we have. Of course the other one is capacity; we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got a railway system in the 2020s that everyone can fit on. We’re still using the one that the Victorians built – I think that it’s done really well [girly giggle] to last a hundred years – but we were always going to get to a point in time when, essentially, it gets full and we’ve got to put some new track down. We’ve got to think ahead and do that in time for the people who want to use the stations and train travel in future, and that’s precisely what we are doing.”

The usual politician’s trick you might think. Divert the question away from something that you don’t want to talk about to a subject that you have a nice prepared spiel on. So Mr Pearse tried again:

“So you haven’t got it wrong?”

Which earned the reply from Ms Greening:

“Absolutely not! I think High Speed Two is absolutely critical to our Country’s future; not just for passengers using the railway system, but also for cities like Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.”

Now I have to admit that I’m beginning to find Ms Greening somewhat irritating. Firstly, there is the matter of presentation. Now I know that I am a fully paid up member of the “grumpy old men” club, but I wince every time that I hear the word “absolutely” on the TV or radio. For me it’s right up there in the annoyance stakes with displaying the Union Flag upside down – and there’s been a lot of that recently. So Ms Greening scores three on the old Absolutometer for her contribution to the Meridian piece; still at least she wasn’t waving an inverted Union Flag at the same time.

Secondly, she couldn’t resist bringing the Victorians in again. I think that even she is getting a bit self-conscious about this, hence the giggle betraying her embarrassment (possibly), but I presume that she has been told by her advisers that this is a good “angle” and that she should use it at every opportunity. For my own views on the relevance of the Victorians to HS2, see my blog Your railways are so quaint (posted 21 Feb 2012).

But my real annoyance with her answer arises from her insistence that HS2 is – no I won’t use the “A” word – “… value for money”.

Even if we accept all of the DfT’s equivocation, the “official” BCR for Phase 1 (without WEI) is 1.4, currently. This puts HS2 in the DfT’s own value for money category of “low” (see the table in paragraph 4.4 on page 8 of the January 2012 document The Economic Case for HS2: Value for Money Statement). However, as I have shown in the series of ten blogs that I posted between 11 Aug 2012 and 16 Sep 2012, the plain honest truth is that the BCR has collapsed out of sight and that HS2 represents only marginally better value for money than burning £50 notes by the bucketful.

Either the Secretary of State is unaware of how bad things are, or she is simply ignoring a politically inconvenient situation. The problem is that while she is refusing to accept that HS2 has really earned its “white elephant” label, HS2 Ltd is spending our money by the millions. The longer it takes her, or HM Treasury, to come to the inevitable conclusion that HS2 has to be scrapped, the more of our hard-earned cash will have been frittered away.

Justine Greening’s comments to Meridian TV do however serve to underline one important point; the main argument being used by the Government to justify HS2 is now the capacity issue. Her observation that the existing railway will eventually get full has given me the inspiration for my next full series of blogs, which I plan to start posting shortly.


3 responses to this post.

  1. Peter
    I think this project is turning a large number of us into “grumpy old men”.
    The spin and downright lies is not working but it is very tiresome.
    Do keep blogging they are a really good feature of the campaign and I for one look forward to reading them, thank you. Roger


  2. Posted by chriseaglen on September 28, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    Please do consider the question about the number of tracks required to provide a full capacity. It is not 2 but 4 and in places more may be needed for short sections. The BCR(2) and BCR(4) could be addressed if the NAO determines to fully assess to prevent another M25 widening arising with the rail corridor needs.


    • Posted by Peter Delow on September 29, 2012 at 8:08 am

      You get full marks for persistence on this one Chris.
      You have persuaded me that I should perhaps post a blog on the 4 track issues that you raise and I hope to do this in the near future


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