I’ve decided that I’m going to win the 100 metres sprint at next year’s Paris Olympics. I believe the benefits for the UK economy will be huge and I will inspire millions with my efforts. My wife has pointed out that my best time for the event was 13.8 seconds, recorded at Houghton School some years ago (many years ago to be honest). I need to beat that by some 4.5 seconds next year, but I am quietly confident.
However, in her annual report on my planned activities, Jane has had the temerity to rank my chances of success as “red”. That red rating indicates that “successful delivery of the project appears to be unachievable.” That means “there are major issues with project definition, schedule, budget, quality and/or benefits delivery, which at this stage do not appear to be manageable or resolvable”.
I am disgusted by this lack of positivity. My gold medal will lead to transformational benefits for generations to come, improving connections and helping grow the economy. And I have already spent billions on food supplements, very expensive training programmes and massages, so you wouldn’t want to waste that money, would you?
That is pretty much the situation with HS2, the high-speed rail programme that is going to link London with other cities in England. The latest report from the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA), which sits within the government’s Cabinet Office, has given the first two phases (1 and 2a) of the HS2 programme an unachievable “red” rating, defined as above.
There is no mention of HS2 anywhere in the report’s various narrative sections, despite the fact it is the biggest single programme in the UK in terms of cost. In the table that list all 250+ projects, all it says next to the red rating is this. “A new railway connecting the country’s biggest cities and economic regions enabling rebalancing and regional growth in the Midlands Engine and Northern Powerhouse – through a high capacity, high speed and low carbon transport solution”.
And the Department for Transport’s response is also pretty much as above.
“Spades are already in the ground on HS2, with 350 construction sites, over £20bn invested to date and supporting over 28,500 jobs. We remain committed to delivering HS2 in the most cost-effective way for taxpayers. HS2 will bring transformational benefits for generations to come, improving connections and helping grow the economy”.
That really is treating us as idiots. No attempt to actually respond to the undeliverability issues, or explain how “red” will turn to amber and green, just that they’re committed to it and we’ve spent a sh** load of money already, so hey, let’s spend another £50 billion or so. At least.
Clearly, all those supposedly super-clever people in Treasury and Department of Transport have never heard of the sunk cost fallacy. Well, of course they have heard of it but this is politics. Civil servants just have to do what their masters tell them, but you can be sure HS2 will be disappearing from a lot of senior peoples’ cvs on LinkedIn in a few years’ time. This is just a terrible, disgraceful and ridiculous waste of public money, from the beginning when the business case was manipulated to appear positive, and my daughter’s generation will be asking questions for years to come about just how we allowed this to happen.
“If I were still in government, I would be climbing the walls about this. I would want to stop all work on HS2 today, but I know I would be told that the contracts signed for its construction make that impossible. I would want to fire somebody senior, but I would be informed that the chief executive of HS2 Ltd already quit last month so that satisfaction would be denied me.
Then I would say that if we can’t cancel it we should at least make sure that the bits that haven’t been abandoned will work well, but I would be told that the cost of making it start in Euston has doubled recently, that no one could decide how many platforms they wanted to build, that this crucial part is currently unaffordable and that the transformational, high-speed connection of Birmingham to central London might not even reach the latter. And then I would want to scream”.
Indeed, the IPA report is generally disappointing. It is full of case studies of successful projects and programmes (244 now in the portfolio), with little or no discussion on the problems. And I’m not sure how the rapid charging fund for EVs can be seen as a success when you read this. Most of the case studies have a few initial issues but are turned round thanks to the IPA to deliver success. It reads in the main like a marketing document from a consulting firm. (I actually wonder whether privatisation is on the cards?) I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised, at the end of the day, the IPA is not truly independent, it is part of government, so it does have to toe the party line.
It is also noticeable that so many projects are rated amber – no less than 80%. That can be a bit of a cop-out rating really. It says there are issues, but nothing too much to worry about. I think when the IPA or its predecessor first started, there were amber/red and amber/green ratings too, but I suspect that put too many projects into the (at least partially) red bracket, which is embarrassing for the government. But really having 80% of the projects ranked at the same level reduces the usefulness for any external scrutiny.
Anyway, in the couple of hours it has taken me to write this, another £4 million or so has been spent on HS2. What a waste.