While the HS2 focus from much of the press on May the 10th was the spurious idea that the absence of a bill in The Queens Speech was in some way a delay, what was almost completely missed was that HS2 Ltd chose that day to bury the advertisement of top jobs at the quango. Just nine positions were advertised from that day, worth a combined salary in excess of £700,000.
There has been a great deal of ill-informed political intrigue around HS2 not being in The Queens Speech, which the published timetable has always shown it was meant to be in next years speech, but this has helped highlight the fact that there is a very tight, if not impossible parliamentary timetable to get HS2 passed through The Commons before the next General Election in 2015. The current timetable would only allow around a eighteen months to get the bill through, equivalent to the much smaller HS1 and less than half of the over three years which Crossrail took to be legislated for, which is either a reminder that the HS2 planning process has been poor from the outset or that the Government intends to water down any scrutiny of the Hybrid Bill to rush it through.
On May 10th, HS2 Ltd started advertising new posts available at the Quango. The head of public affairs, head of land and property, chief information officer and a general counsel/company secretary will all be paid £97,398 plus benefits. Another three new jobs are on £75,400; the heads of cost and investment planning, human resources, and contracts and procurement. Additionally a senior contracts manager will get £49,511 and a procurement manager will be on £43,949. The salaries of just these nine jobs net a grand total of £709,252 before the benefits package and employers tax, national insurance and pension contributions are taken into account. The total annual bill to the taxpayer for just these nine staff will be well in excess of a million pounds.
In a counter to the constant bad press which HS2 receives, the head of public affairs will astonishingly be responsible for a team of sixty spin-doctors. In a move that will concern HS2 campaigners worried about land grabs and green-belt development around stations, the head of land a property will be responsible for ‘commercialisation activity’ and the realisation of development opportunities.
Whilst politicians have been keen to dismiss the idea of a ‘land grab’ around Euston or massive green belt development around out-of-town stations, such as the ones proposed at Birmingham Airport, the East Midlands and South Yorkshire, the fact HS2 the Government “intends to work closely with property developers to ensures the ‘very significant’ development opportunities created by the proposed stations are maximised.” was recently confirmed by Under Secretary of State for Transport Norman Baker MP in a letter to David Liddington MP, in which he raises again the idea that areas which are deemed to ‘benefit’ from HS2 stations would have to pay for them. This has already caused discord in Camden where businesses will suffer loss of trade in the eight years it would take Euston to be rebuilt, and also in areas like Coventry & Warwickshire which Government ministers have insisted will benefit from HS2 stations, despite widespread opposition from the public and councils.
Stop HS2 Campaign Coordinator Joe Rukin said;
“The benefit cost ratio has dropped four times, the project has been put on Amber-Red alert and the Public Accounts Committee were scathing about the figures for HS2. How does this Government quango propose to resolve these problems? Employ a spin doctor on 97 grand with a team of sixty people below them to gloss over these fundamental problems with hype, even though these jobs already exist within the Department for Transport. The Major Projects Authority have given HS2 an ‘Amber-Red’ rating, meaning there are that many problems with it that they aren’t sure it can be fixed, but the mentality is to ignore this and all the signals for throwing away more taxpayers money are green.”
“The statement from Norman Baker coupled with the job description of the head of land and property have confirmed our worst fears, that HS2 is a developers charter. Despite all their backtracking from the chief engineers statement that it would create a ‘new city’ between Coventry and Birmingham, they have come clean that they want to maximise the ‘very significant’ development opportunities around stations and worst of all they intend to get those people who are vehemently opposed to the project to pay extra to have it built, whilst reducing the income of their businesses and values of their properties. If the Government want those who ‘benefit’ from HS2 to pay extra, they should come clean on exactly how much as soon as possible, so we can see if various Chambers of Commerce which have been lobbying for it remain as keen when they have to put their money where their mouths are.”