Leadsom calls for review of HS2 Business Case, Labour want independent peer review

This week Andrea Leadsom brought a debate in Parliament about the business case for HS2. Like so many of the debates on this subject in the past there wasn’t time for everyone to speak, and many of the arguments seemed to be exactly the same ones that have been going on for years, only the numbers involved have got bigger.

Speaker after speaker against HS2 would be quoting facts and figures, only to be rebutted in most cases by complete conjecture and disdain, possibly best demonstrated when former Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin butted in to say opposition to HS2 was “Nimbyism”.

Not for the first time Nus Ghani seemed not to be taking things seriously and demonstrated the complete incompetence of the team behind her when she claimed that Burberry were moving to Leeds because of HS2. Not only was their original decision all about consolidating three factories in Yorkshire into a single site, but they cancelled those plans in May.

Probably the most interesting things to be said were from the rather more unusual suspects of Rachael Maskell and Ivan Lewis. Maskell, the shadow rail minister, very much demonstrated that she is not the sort of gung-ho HS2 acolyte we are sued to, and called for an independent peer based review of the projects, saying:

“With regard to the way we proceed on this project, we believe that the missing piece, which is crucial, is that the project is not peer-reviewed. It must be peer-reviewed independently to ensure, first, that the engineering is right and, secondly, that the value is right. That is where the lack of accountability sits. Once we have that information before the House, we can make a sound judgment on whether the project will deliver the value, the jobs and the opportunity for conurbations across this country. Until that occurs, we will put a serious question mark over the governance and over this Government’s ​handling of the project. We believe that it could be in a different place. Certainly on the issue of cost—the cost financially, but also the cost to the environment—we need to ensure that all these measures are properly brought into check as we move forward in improving scrutiny.”

Lewis continued with a variation on a theme, following up from Lord Berkeley claiming HS2 had paid off whistleblowers and picking up on what Stop HS2 pointed out; that just because HS2 Ltd hvae claimed none of their former staff have signed non-disclosure agreements, it does not mean they haven’t signed other agreements that contained non-disclosure clauses.

“Will the Minister make public the number of non-disclosure agreements, settled agreements, compromise agreements or any other arrangements, which include non-disclosure provisions with former staff members? Can she confirm that funding from an unauthorised redundancy payment scheme operated by HS2 was used to fund some or all settlement or compromise agreements with former senior staff, and that in some cases those staff were regarded as having made serious protected disclosures as to their concerns—this is the same point made by the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham)—over HS2’s financial statements? If she cannot answer today, will she write to me with detailed answers before the summer recess?”

You can watch the full debate here and the transcript is here.

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