Earlier today Labour published their 2015 manifesto. As expected from their business manifesto, published a couple of weeks ago, they claim to support HS2, but their support leaves a large get-out clause in the form of costs:
We will continue to support the construction of High Speed Two, but keep costs down, and take action to improve and expand rail links across the North to boost its regional economies.
The thing is, HS2 costs are not under control: the Coalition Government’s figure of £50bn is in 2011 prices, and the Department for Transport have refused to issue updated figures. The actual cost of building HS2 will be much, much higher.
What’s more, when David Higgins was appointed as Chair of HS2 Ltd, David Cameron asked him to find ways of cutting the cost of HS2. Higgins failed, saying that Phase One budget was “enough to deliver Phase One”. But instead of cutting anything from the costs, he instead cut the link from HS2 to HS1 from the project. The Heathrow link has also been dropped without the budget changing, and there are huge question marks over the costs of the redevelopments at Euston.
David Higgins and the Department for Transport have failed to find ways of keeping the HS2 costs down already – what’s else can Labour do?
What’s more, the Labour manifesto pulled another plank from the case for HS2. It said on the subject of rail fares:
Rail fares will be frozen next year to help commuters while we implement reforms. A strict fare rise cap will be introduced on every route for any future fare rises, and a new legal right for passengers will be created to access the cheapest ticket for their journey.
The business case for HS2 is dependent on keeping the fares at a similar level to conventional speed trains, but they will also be dependent on subsidy. Labour realise that for many travellers the cost of the train fare is far more important than the speed: with fares on existing routes kept low by subsidies, they will be able to recoup some of the costs of the network by charging business travellers far more for the fast HS2 trains. This will have a knock-on effect on the case for HS2.
What’s more, whichever Government gets elected will very soon have to publish details of the HS2 spending, under the provisions of the HS2 Paving Act. Will they really be able to keep to their manifesto of keeping the HS2 costs down?
You can download the whole Labour manifesto here.