Lord MacPherson, the former civil servant who ran the Treasury for eleven years until last year, has come out against HS2, saying it isn’t value for money after voting against the HS2 Hybrid Bill last week in the House of Lords. Another previous incumbent as permanent secretary at the Treasury, Lord Burns, also voted against HS2.
Whilst civil servants are required to do what they are told whilst in the job, it was revealed in August 2013, when the official cost of HS2 still stood at £42.6bn, that the Treasury were using the figure of £73bn internally. Three later and still without a spade hitting the ground, the official cost was increased to almost halfway there at £55.7bn, suggesting the £73bn estimate for the total bill during MacPhersons’ time at the Treasury may well have been optimistic.
Explaining his reasons for voting against HS2, Lord Macpherson said:
“It was simply on value for money grounds. In a world where capital spending is rationed, there are many road and a fair few rail schemes which would give the taxpayer a better return.”
Backing up this argument, Mark Littlewood of the Institute of Economic Affairs told the BBC Daily Politics on Friday:
“One of the dangers on HS2 and the other ‘grands projets’ is that there is always a temptation for politicians to invest in one of these big legacy schemes, but if you’re going to spend money, probably spend it on a hundred or two hundred rather smaller schemes, which aren’t going to be as headline grabbing, but actually probably will do money to ease up congestion and facilitate the economy.”
John O’Connell, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance took exactly the same line, telling the Sunday Telegraph:
“The Government should take note of Lord Macpherson’s comments and scrap this vanity project immediately. There are other, admittedly less glamorous, infrastructure projects which would be more effective and deliver value for taxpayers’ money, but the Government is ploughing on with a project that will boost politicians’ egos as much as it will empty taxpayers’ wallets. Hard-pressed families footing the bill for this folly deserve better.”