Despite the fact the Hybrid Bill for the first phase of HS2 from London to Birmingham is not expected to have got Parliamentary approval until the end of next year, HS2 Ltd are about to put out tenders worth seven billion pounds, which do not have to be approved by Parliament, according to the Financial Times.
‘Pre-qualifying’ for a £350m contract for the HS2 ‘delivery partner’ role started in March, with a £900m contract for enabling works also currently out to tender. It is now expected that a consultants’ bonanza will start in September with £7,000,000,000 (£7bn) worth of contracts going out to tender, solely surrounding tunnels and viaducts on Phase 1 of the proposed route.
Currently, HS2 Ltd have spent just under a billion pounds. Whilst the overall budget for the project is up, the to-date spend is under projections completely due to the fact they are over a year late in producing their final plans for Phase 2 of the proposed route. The original timetable for HS2 was that Phase 1 would have been passed to Royal Assent before the May 2015 election, whilst it is now expected to happen by the end of 2016 at the earliest.
Despite many politicians previously stating there should be no ‘blank cheque’ for HS2, in 2013 MPs and Lords voted to approve the ‘High Speed Rail Preparation Act’, which means that Parliamentary approval is not be needed to commit to any contracts relating to ‘pre-construction activity’, no matter how large in relation to HS2. Some MPs who claimed to be opposed to HS2 voted for that bill, saying it would make more money available for compensation, which was clearly not the case, and with so many still not getting compensation, this has been proved to be definitely not the case.
It has long been the opinion of the Stop HS2 campaign that the Preparation Act, dubbed the ‘Blank Cheque Bill’ would be used to make sure as much money as possible would be spent on HS2, making the project harder to cancel before it actually got full Parliamentary approval. This now has been proven to be true.
Professor Tony Travers told the FT:
“Once the digging starts, it makes it even harder to stop. The more big contracts are let and the more people they bring in from other organisations, the harder it is to back out. It would be financially expensive and hugely politically embarrassing to row back from that.”
Stop HS2 Campaign Manager Joe Rukin said:
“We’ve always said that HS2 Ltd would blow as much cash as possible to try and make the project impossible to cancel. They’ve spent the best part of a billion, there’s over a billion out for tender, and now we learn they will start bids on contracts worth another seven billion next month, all before the HS2 plans get passed by Parliament. None of this needs Parliamentary approval, because MPs and Lords signed a blank cheque for HS2 two years ago.”
“HS2 Ltd have said they need to tender this early to make sure ‘the project remains on time and on budget’, which is spin of the first order because it was meant to have been passed by now, and it’s already a mile off budget, but nothing like as high as the cost will end up.”
“What is happening here is clear. It doesn’t matter how bad the case for HS2 is, how terribly the project is being managed, or where the real cost now is. This Government wants HS2, and as such they will blow as much money as possible to make it seem like a waste not to go ahead. This is typical of dogmatic politicians, but really, now the money being talked about is silly. If the £7bn of tenders is really just for tunnels and viaducts on Phase 1, it just shows the project is over-budget, yet again.