Public Accounts Committee said franchising civil servant’s HS2 thinking was ‘bonkers’ & ‘shocking’

Published 8th October 2012

An article by Joe Rukin

According to the DfT business plan, Steve Gooding the civil servant in charge of HS2 for the Department, is also jointly in charge of franchising with colleague Peter Strachan. This week all future franchises are on hold following the decision to cancel the outcome of the West Coast Mainline bidding process, after ‘serious technical errors’ were only found due to work being carried out in preparation for the legal challenge being brought by Virgin.

Warning signs over the Departments approach were there for all to see back in April, when Gooding was trying to justify the DfT’s methodology and assumptions regarding HS2, and Chair of the Public Accounts Committee Margaret Hodge was highly critical of their approach. So poor was the performance from Gooding and DfT Permanent Secretary, Philip Rutnam that the Stop HS2 campaign made it into a music video.

When Gooding said the DfT had not thought there would be a premium price on HS2, Hodge said:

“Well, that’s wrong. That’s crazy. If you haven’t assumed a premium price and you know it’ll cost more, that is bonkers...... Your modelling is really quite shocking. It seems to me that you are biasing the modelling assumptions, because you’re putting in a modelling assumption that there will not be a premium price, to demonstrate your additional passenger numbers.”

There were other gaffes, including Gooding being particularly evasive in answering some questions, including simply confirming the fact that the greatest growth in rail has been in regional, not long-distance travel.

On Wednesday, Transport Minister Simon Burns on Newsnight dismissed the idea that civil servants could have made the same errors on HS2 that have been made on the WCML because “It has been looked at time and time again, not only by the DfT but also HS2 itself.”

Joe Rukin campaign coordinator for Stop HS2 said:

“Back in April the Public Accounts Committee were massively critical repeated failures of the DfT, both in their forecasting and the assumptions they make, but no-one was listening. You just have to look at how civil servants performed that day at the PAC to see why the DfT is such a mess, there is a culture of ineptitude which seems to have seen people promoted above their level of incompetency. We’ve got a situation with HS2 that they have revealed they have lost consultation responses not just once, but twice, so why on Earth does anyone think they can get anything right?”

“Simon Burns said on Newsnight that he was confident that there would be no problem with HS2 because both the DfT and their wholly owned subsidiary HS2 Ltd have checked the figures. He is clearly new in the job and has no idea what they are like. He seems not to know that when they did look at the figures again, they ended up downgrading the business case three times. They only got it part of the way back up in August by cutting the cost of the countryside by over £4bn to under £1bn, despite agricultural land values almost doubling since HS2 was announced. Every part of the case for HS2 is fiction, and like with the WCML, it will only be because of the upcoming legal challenges that they check the figures properly.”



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