PETER GRANT MP SAYS THERE’S “NO EXCUSE” FOR HIDING HS2 PROBLEMS FROM PARLIAMENT
Updated: May 20, 2020
Glenrothes & Central Fife MP Peter Grant has said there can be no excuse for a UK Government Department hiding details of a massive overspend on the Government’s flagship “HS2” project from Parliament.
Mr Grant, the only MP from Scotland on the Public Accounts Committee, was speaking after the Committee published the results of an inquiry into an estimated £32 billion overspend and severe delays on the High Speed 2 project to improve rail services between London and the north of England.
The Committee reported that although the UK Government’s Department for Transport knew in 2018 that both the original budget and the target completion date were becoming unachievable, they withheld this information from the Public Accounts Committee despite twice being asked about it during formal evidence sessions. They also failed on four different occasions to notify the Committee about formal “Accounting Officer Assessments” that examined the likely overspend in more detail, despite the fact that the Government’s own rules require these assessments to be made public.
In addition Mr Grant revealed that although HS2 Ltd, the company charged with delivering the project, had formally notified the Department in March 2019 that they could not keep to the contracted budget and time scale, the company’s Annual Report published four months later made no mention of this.
Mr Grant said, “Everyone accepts that this is a hugely complex project and that things will go wrong but the scale of the overspend here is eyewatering. To put it into perspective, the overspend alone is more than Scotland’s entire budget for health, social care, local government and education combined. It’s bad enough that a catalogue of mistakes could lead to such a drain on public finances. It’s inexcusable that the people responsible seem to have done everything possible to withhold this fact from Parliament and in particular from the Public Accounts Committee.
“There were four different mechanisms set up that should have allowed Parliament to get early warning of how badly wrong everything was going. Between them the Government Department and the company managed to circumvent all four. None of the excuses they offered were accepted by the Committee for the very good reason that what they did was inexcusable.”
Mr Grant added that delays to the project meant it could be decades before Scotland felt the benefits. He said, “The UK Government promised that the massive amount of money being spent on this railway would bring huge benefits not just to London and the Midlands of England but to Scotland as well. Now we’re being told it might be another twenty years before it even gets as far north as Leeds and Manchester.”
You can find the Public Account Committee's report into HS2 here.