With the emphasis from the Conservative campaign on the economy, one would expect the current Chancellor, Philip Hammond, to be on top of his brief with the figures. But in an interview with the Today programme this morning, Hammond lopped out £20 billion off the cost of HS2, saying that it would be £32 billion, instead of the real current figures of £55 billion.
Of course, when Hammond was Secretary of State for Transport, the HS2 budget was £32billionish: but there have been three Secretary of States in Transport since him, and the HS2 timetable is getting delayed. The single HS2 Phase 2 bill should have been presented to Parliament by now, with construction on Phase 1 already started. Instead, Phase 2 has been split into two, with delays there, and Phase 1 contracts are still to be awarded. The budget for HS2 has also massively increased to £55 billion, but no one – except possibly Philip Hammond – expects it to stay that ‘low’.
Not surprisingly, the Labour have used the mistake to criticise Phil, issuing a press release about this, and the fact that Theresa May refused to confirm that Hammond will stay Chancellor after the election. Westminster rumours have already been circulating that he’ll be out of the Treasury if May wins big. Maybe he’ll be back in Transport?
Meanwhile both the Labour party and the LibDems have issued their manifestos.
We haven’t got much more to say about Labour’s, as their plans for HS2 were almost identical to the draft leaked last week – it repeats the plan for a Labour government to build HS2 into Scotland. They also promise to borrow an extra £250 billion for a National Transformation Fund to spend on “the huge potential of every part of our country”. The thing is HS2 to Scotland has not been costed, but with HS2 Ltd apparently working to internal estimates of £200 billion its entirely possible that such a fund might be entirely spent on HS2.
The LibDems have also got plans for HS2. Their manifesto ties it in with other rail projects:
“Pursue the electrification of the rail network, improve stations, reopen smaller stations, restore twin-track lines to major routes and proceed with HS2, HS3 and Crossrail 2, including development of a high-speed network stretching to Scotland.”
Of course, the money for HS2 was meant to be easy to find, coming from the same pot as Crossrail after that was finished. But with the probability of Crossrail 2 going ahead, that money won’t be available for HS2. And it will be interesting to see what happens with the ‘HS3’ plans: under current thinking from the ‘speed’ has been dropped for a more conventional speed railway.
The other point to make is that HS1 won’t be part of any UK ‘network’ . The plans for HS2 were originally issued without a link to HS1, and although this was retrofitted for a while, it has since been dropped.