On Tuesday 7th November, the Treasury Select Committee are due to question the National Infrastructure Commission, about infrastructure policy and the independence of the organisation.
Whilst the nature of ‘independence’ the committee are likely to concentrate on is independence from the Government and more specifically the Treasury, there has to also be the very large question about how independent they are of the industry that seeks to benefit from various infrastructure projects.
It is of course no massive surprise that the NIC massively support HS2, as the originator of HS2, Lord Andrew Adonis, is chair of the NIC. And this seems to be the standard way these things operate. One of the things that has been said about HS2 since Adonis first proposed it, is that it won’t work without Crossrail 2 to disperse passengers at Euston. Whilst that depends on believing the grossly-inflated passenger forecasts for HS2, a couple of years ago, the NIC decided that Crossrail 2 should go ahead as soon as possible and would certainly be value for money, which oddly enough is exactly what Adonis said back when he was chair of the London First‘s task force to champion Crossrail 2. Just a fortnight after the NIC published a report demanding CR2 should be fully funded in May 2016, Adonis was appointed chair of Crossrail 2, still holding his post as ‘independent’ chair of the NIC.
So let’s get that straight. You work for a group lobbying for a project, you then get put in charge of an ‘independent’ Government body which takes up lobbying for that project, and then . The Government then put you in charge of that project. This is the sort of conflict of interest that seems to be standard when it comes to UK infrastructure projects, but the more insidious problem we have seen with HS2 is when ‘conflict of interests’ involves ‘vested interests’, and the NIC board shows this issue is endemic.
NIC Board member Sir John Armitt is one of those supporting HS2, and well he might as Siemens, which he is also on the board of have been lobbying for HS2 since the start and of course have just bid to build the trains. He’s also chair of National Express, who hope to benefit with the extension to the Nottingham tram that HS2 demands.
Then there is NIC board member Bridget Rosewell, who is also on the HS2 Economic Advisory Panel. That body isn’t so much of an ‘advisory’ panel as a ‘promotional’ one, so it’s a good job she’s a founder of Volterra, who’ve been paid to come up with reports that invent economic benefits of HS2. Most notably, Volterra were paid to peer review the infamous KPMG assessment of the regional impacts of HS2, which every single independent economist (the ones who hadn’t been paid by HS2 Ltd to say what they wanted them to say) saying this report was basically made up, was based on unsafe methodology and grossly overstated economic benefits.
Rosewells’ C.V. boasts the fact she was chair of the audit and risk committee at Network Rail while their debt ballooned to £30,000,000,000, and she chaired the audit committee of the Britannia Building Society, right up until the point when it had to be rescued by the Co-operative Bank. Just the sort of person who the NIC absolutely will need as the remuneration lead on their Audit & Risk Assurance Committee…
These, along with Sadie Morgan who is on one of the HS2 committees along with the NIC board are just examples of how HS2, one of the projects the NIC champion, are ever-so-well represented within the NICs’ ‘independent’ board. Widen it out at the vested interests become far easier to spot. Our favourite has to be that the Americans have widened out the slogan of the Revolutionary War, achieving representation without taxation, in having tax-dodging Googles’ Demis Hassabis on the NIC board so her can recommend where billions in tax they didn’t really contribute to can be spent to benefit them. No wonder Google dropped the ‘Don’t be evil’ motto!
Given all this, it’s truly amazing that in 2015, Armitt had the gall to say this about the NIC:
“My colleagues and I – including Lord Adonis – consulted widely and proposed the creation of a National Infrastructure Commission to provide dispassionate analysis of the UK’s long-term infrastructure needs. The commission can provide unbiased analysis on the UK’s infrastructure needs for the coming decades and act as a catalyst for reaching consensus. For me, the success of the commission will be truly underpinned by the independent evidence on which its analysis is based.”
The reality is that the National Infrastructure Commission does nothing but provide a legitimised and state-funded golden hammer platform, where oddly enough the things that the individuals who have been brought into the organisation have always wanted, are just the things that we need.