Monday, 4 June 2012

Simon Jenkins on HS2

Simon Jenkins is one of the few Guardian columnists worth reading.

Here's what he had to say about HS2:

The case against HS2 should never have been left to lovers of countryside, rather than to other transport users or taxpayers in general. This has played into the hands of the construction lobby, which has shrewdly allied itself with the naive left in depicting opposition to HS2 as confined to Tory nimbys. They can be dismissed by Cameron's macho urban court as effete and "anti-enterprise".
The HS2 lobby has been led by contractors and consultants who manoeuvred themselves into what has become almost an arm of government. They promised ministers and officials untold glory in return for contracts. The lobby was actually set up by transport officials in 2009 to press their case, largely with the Treasury.

Since then the HS2 project has been allocated an astonishing £750m of public money – enough for how many schools or hospitals? – without a single spade being turned and before any decision was made to go ahead. As with Crossrail, the scale of spending and interests at stake banished reason and made the project unstoppable, besotting one transport secretary after another. The latest, Justine Greening, gasped over her plan today like Ahmadinejad over his latest nuclear enrichment plant.

According to Jenkins, things are even worse now than when the railways were nationalised:

This is money beyond all sense. It could have supplied trams to every big city in Britain. The truth is that railways, since their pseudo-privatisation in the mid-90s, have been consuming subsidy at five times the rate they did when nationalised. They take 20 times more bureaucrats to oversee them, while fares have risen to as much as 10 times the European average. Rail oversight has been one of the great failures of modern British government – without a word of inquiry or remorse.

Service quality is at the mercy not of professional managers, but of passing politicians with no knowledge of transport economics, besieged by company lawyers, the Office of Rail Regulation and the Health and Safety Executive. They all pore over hundred-page contracts and risk assessments, measuring costs against subsidies and fines, hiring and firing subcontractors with abandon.

The answer, of course, is not a re-nationalisation, but full privatisation.

It's incredible that most people believe we have a free-market economy.

As Westminster's most promising MP was moved to wonder, did we win the Cold War then suffer a Communist takeover?

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