Earlier this month, it was revealed that the HS2 college, planned to be built over a split site of Doncaster and Birmingham was appealing for funds to help make the college a reality. Now it seems that the Birmingham begging bowl is doing rather better than the Doncaster one. A brochure for the National College of High Speed Rail stated:
“Your organisation can help make the college a reality by providing equipment or financial support. Students will need real railway assets and equipment so they can have the hands-on learning experiences that turn theory into practice. Your donations will be combined with investments by the UK Government, HS2 Ltd, and Birmingham and Doncaster’s Local Enterprise Partnerships.”
The biggest donation has been put up by cash-strapped Birmingham City Council. Earlier this year, the council sold off the NEC group to Lloyds bank for £307m in an attempt to raise money after a court ruled the council had to give decades of back-pay to female employees who had not be paid the same as their male colleagues. The sale in January was a drop in the ocean compared to the overall sex discrimination bill of £1.1bn, and the council has since announced the sale of the freehold of hotel sites near the NEC.
Given this backdrop, you might be excused for thinking Birmingham City Council needed every penny it could get, and that it would be an absolute that when it came to land disposal, they would want to ensure they got every last penny. Well no, because they have decided to give away a site on the Aston Science Park, valued at £4.2m for the HS2 college.
The entire Birmingham college budget is £26m, with Government, via the Department for Business Innovation and Skills and not HS2 Ltd, expected to contribute £20m. The local enterprise partnership are expected to make up the £6m gap, but the overall £26m cost never included actually buying a site to build the college on.
However, a council cabinet report warns of a funding gap if the Department for Business Innovation and Skills cuts the size of its promised £20 million grant.
This message seems to have been spotted in Doncaster too. There, for some reason the college is expected to cost twice as much, with the price tag being £50m. Doncaster and the wider region has submitted a funding bid for £40m to George Osborne, with a letter warning that failure to make a decision in the coming weeks could put the college’s planned 2017 opening date at risk.
The lesson surely to be learned is as has always been suspected would happen regarding HS2 stations; if local authorities want HS2, they may find they end up paying for it.