Andrew Adonis, former Secretary of State for Transport under Labour, has been recruited by George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, to head up a National Infrastructure Commission.
Whatever the claims of “independence”, it is immediately apparent that some of the decisions are not up for review. Andrew Adonis both set up the taxpayer funded HS2 Ltd and is now paid by HS2 Ltd. Meanwhile, Osborne has gone off to China to promise contracts for Chinese firms to build it.
However, back in 2006, Sir Rod Eddington was jointly commissioned by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer and the then Secretary of State for Transport to look at the long term links between transport policy and the economy. He concluded that there was a danger when it came to glossy projects like high speed rail:
“The risk is that transport policy can become the pursuit of icons. Almost invariably such projects – ‘grands projets’ – develop real momentum, driven by strong lobbying. The momentum can make such projects difficult – and unpopular – to stop, even when the benefit:cost equation does not stack up, or the environmental and landscape impacts are unacceptable.”
Adonis completely ignored this when he was appointed Transport minister. Although HS2 Ltd had three so called “challenge panels” when Adonis set it up, the Transport Select Committee criticised the make up of them, pointing out that
“Of the three groups, currently comprising 22 people (all men), only the Analytical Challenge Panel contains any evident critic of high-speed rail. The Strategic Challenge Panel comprises eight transport and local government experts who are almost all publicly supportive of high-speed rail, including the Director of Yes to HS2, the Director of Greengauge 21 and the Chairman of Network Rail”
The Public Accounts Committee were further critical, because the Challenge panels did not include any aviation experts, even though the DfT blames the reason it got passenger forecasts on HS1 because of the rise of low-cost airlines.
What’s more, the proponents of HS2 ignore the growth of alternatives both to travel and to alternative means of travel alternatives. They claim that rail travel is growing because of videoconferencing, and completely ignore the growth in driverless and electric cars, which are being developed with private funding. Rather than thinking about 21st century solutions to 21st century problems, Adonis is stuck in 20th century thinking.
What’s more, according to Peter Mandelson, even the Labour cabinet didn’t look closely at it before the announcement of HS2 in 2010. As an unelected peer, Adonis was not going to be standing for election, and in 2013 Mandelson wrote in the Financial Times:
“In 2010, when the then Labour government decided to back HS2, we did so based on the best estimates of what it would involve. But these were almost entirely speculative. The decision was also partly politically driven. In addition to the projected cost, we gave insufficient attention to the massive disruption to many people’s lives construction would bring. ….. We were focusing on the coming electoral battle, not on the detailed facts and figures of an investment that did not present us with any immediate spending choices. “
With a paid role on HS2 board and now a paid role on the National Infrastructure Commission, its clear that independent is the one thing that Adonis is not.