Do HS2 Proponents Realise Their Economically Illiterate Claim is that High Speed Rail Will Eradicate Unemployment?

Last week, the HS2 Vested Interest Syndicate, or “High Speed Rail Industry Leaders Group” as they like to be called held their conference in Manchester. Although it was quite boring, especially as speaker after speaker made the same tired old points, it was one of the best days out ever for a Stop HS2 campaigner, as the other thing those speakers made clear was that they truly believe HS2 could still be cancelled.

Perhaps the most jaw-dropping moment was when Tim Wood said he would tell the Tory leadership candidates that there was no other project that would create as many jobs as HS2 – 850,000 in all in the North of England alone. This was so shocking that I didn’t think I had heard it right and tweeted that he had gone with the previously ridiculous claim that HS2 would create 500,000 jobs for the Midlands and the North, which is just slightly short of the 582,000 figure for total unemployment in the five local government regions that make up that area.

But no, one of the HS2 blob corrected me that the jobs figure they are now touting is 850,000. This would include the projected benefits of ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’ and other elements of the TfN strategic transport plan, but those jobs would just be for the North of England. Leeds City Council Leader Judith Blake, a person who has proven that she will say absolutely anything when it comes to HS2, would later absolutely defend the viability of this figure saying it has been thoroughly researched and is a completely valid forecast for the jobs better transport would create by 2050 – over double the number of new jobs which would be expected to be created by then without those transport upgrades.

To put things in perspective, the March figures from the Office of National Statistics show 335,000 currently unemployed in the three regions that make up the North of England, over half a million fewer than the 850,000 jobs better transport links are supposed to create. Yes of course there would be an increase in population by 2050, but in trying to figure out exactly where they project that would end up, you find out just how much attention was paid by the authors of the report to the numbers. If the North of England really does have population growth of 6.7% as the report states, then by 2050 there would be over one hundred million people living there……

Population growth of 6.7%? Are you sure that decimal point is in the right place?


And of course it gets worse. Looking at the jobs claims that HS2 Ltd are willing to put in their own website there are: 77,500 around Birmingham Interchange; 36,000 at Curzon St; the East Midlands HS2 growth strategy would supposedly add another 74,000; and there are another 65,000 meant to come at Old Oak Common. The Crewe growth strategy covers elements of both the North West and West Midlands, so the only published number we can legitimately use without double counting part of that 850,000 is the 6,500 jobs figure associated with Stafford. And don’t forget (when this article was originally drafted, we did!) the 14,100 jobs expected around Euston.

So when you add all that together: 850,000 + 77,500 + 36,000 + 74,000 + 65,000 + 6,500 + 14,100 you get 1,123,100. Or in other words 11,100 more than 1,112,000. Why is 1,112,000 is relevant? Well it is the official total number of unemployed in England in March, according to the ONS. Yes that’s right, the jobs projections – and remember there are probably some more invented West Midlands jobs projections that could be added – add up to more than the total unemployed in England. So basically what is being said by proponents of high speed rail is that HS2 & NPR, coupled with a few better roads in the North would eradicate unemployment in England completely at a stroke if these projects were finished today.

Yes that’s right, they are touting no less than the complete eradication of unemployment in England. They just probably don’t realise that is what they are saying.

They only need to invent another 174,900 jobs to get that projection total up to 1,298,000, and it’ll be the end of unemployment throughout the whole of UK.

This is despite the facts: that the plans miss out most of the country; that travelling for work and meetings is becoming less and less important in our digital age; and that better transport links may influence the location of new jobs, but they do not create them.

It is when you realise that the people behind HS2 and the politicians promoting it are willing to support this level economic illiteracy, that you have to realise they will literally say anything without compunction. These people might not outwardly be using the phrase “high speed rail will pretty much eradicate unemployment on its own”, but there is no denying that this is what the numbers they are promoting say. It’s not just that this is pure fiction and undermines the credibility of every other claim they make, it’s that this is a display of either incredible incompetence or arrogance – or both – for them to think that people might be stupid enough to believe it.

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