In a Parliamentary written question, Robert Goodwill has indicated that he is in no rush to release how much HS2 Ltd have spent, and is planning to take about six months from the end of the financial year to produce accounts.
Shadow Secretary of State for Transport Lilian Greenwood submitted this question on 27 May 2015:
“To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, when he expects to publish the first financial report on High Speed 2’s preparatory spending.”
To which Mr Goodwill responded on Monday:
“HS2 Ltd expect to publish their first financial report detailing expenditure incurred under the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Act 2013 in autumn 2015.”
This timeline seems very much to be stretching the requirements of the 2013 Act, which at the time was dubbed the ‘Blank Cheque Bill’. The Act received royal assent on 21st November 2013 and was criticised at the time as a way of making sure any spending on HS2 from that date would not be released until after the 2015 General Election, as it established that the first accounting ‘year’ under the Act would be 16 months, running from then until March 31st 2015.
The Act contained a requirement on the Secretary of State to “prepare a report on expenditure under section 1 in relation to each financial year” and that he should “lay each report under this section before Parliament as soon as is reasonably practicable after the end of the financial year to which it relates.”
Given that the accounting year ended on March 31st, it is dubious to say the least that the hazy deadline of ‘autumn’, given that autumn starts in September, is ‘as soon as is reasonably practicable’. Indeed, you may be excused for thinking that given Parliament broke up for the election the day before the end of the financial ‘year’, civil servants may well have been able to steam ahead with the preparation of the accounts, as there were none of those pesky politicians around to get in their way.
It also has to be remembered that in the history of HS2 Ltd, ‘autumn’ has consistently been used as a code word for ‘sometime next year’, with the worst example coming this week when Patrick McLoughlin announced that the final route for Phase 2 will be out in ‘autumn’, which is the same deadline he gave it last year!
This answer wasn’t the only dodging of the issue of HS2 costs which Mr Goodwill came up with this week, as Jim Cunningham MP put this question:
“To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, what recent assessment his Department has made of the total cost of High Speed Two”
To which he responded:
“Spending Round 2013 (SR 2013) provided an agreed funding envelope for delivery of the HS2 project of £50.1bn (in 2011 prices and excluding VAT). This comprises construction costs of £21.4bn for Phase 1 and £21.2bn for Phase 2 plus £7.5bn for Rolling Stock. These costs include a considerable level of contingency.”
The fact the active word in the question from Mr Cunningham was ‘recent’ evidently completely slipped Mr Goodwill by, but information released last week under the Freedom of Information Act has already shown that not only does the DfT not have a recent estimate of cost, they have no intention of calculating one.
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I wonder if HS2 Ltd is letting contracts in 2011 prices!