Public Accounts Committee to grill HS2 Ltd and DfT

This afternoon, the Public Accounts Committee are holding an evidence session into HS2. This follows on from the damning National Audit Office report published in May.

At the time of the report’s publication, Margaret Hodge was highly critical, saying (amongst other things)

“HS1 ended up costing the taxpayer billions when it was supposed to pay for itself. An estimated £3 billion funding gap has been identified for HS2, already bringing into question the affordability of this project. Despite the sums planned for investment HS2 is currently predicted to generate just £1.40 in benefit for every £1 spent on phase 1. The Department has already belatedly identified errors in its calculations that have wiped £12 billion off the expected benefits.”

(As the headline cost of HS2 has gone up by a third – to £42billion – during the course of one afternoon last week, the benefit cost ratio is now even worse for HS2 then it was in May.)

At the time the report was released, both Patrict McLouglin and Simon Burns, ministers in the Department for Transport, criticised the NAO report on the grounds that it used out of date data, and that they did not recognise the figures in the report. However the Observer said this weekend that the figures had been approved by the DfT’s permanent secretary, Philip Rutman.

The Observer added

Margaret Hodge, chair of the committee, which scrutinises public expenditure, said McLoughlin and Burns were joining a growing number of coalition ministers who were happy to rubbish official and factually accurate analysis. “I am fed up that ministers run away from the argument by denying the facts. There may be a good reason for going ahead with HS2, but justify it on the basis of facts, not by negative briefings against the truth,” she said.

Hodge said the department’s criticisms would be raised with Rutnam tomorrow. “We will expect the permanent secretary to fulfil his proper role as an accounting officer, which means he won’t be motivated by political bias and will acknowledge the facts as set out in the NAO’s report, which is based on departmental data.”

Last time the PAC looked at HS2, Ms Hodge forced Philip Rutman to admit that HS2 had had an amber/red warning from the Major Projects Authority. Although the most recent rating has not been made public, we know this amber/red rating was repeated, meaning that HS2 has been rated as “in need of urgent action” in three consecutive reviews.

This afternoon’s session is due to start at 3:15 pm and can be watched live on the Parliament TV website here.

The witnesses will be Philip Rutnam, Permanent Secretary, Department for Transport, David Prout, Director General, HS2 and Alison Munro, Chief Executive, HS2 Ltd.

You can read what we said last time:

Videos from the last session can be watched on the Stop HS2 youtube channel.

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