Audit Commission to investigate anti-HS2 Tory councils

A number of the major district and county councils along the route of the proposed High-Speed Two (HS2) rail line are being investigated by the Audit Commission.

There are reports this morning that a number of the major district and county councils along the route of the proposed High-Speed Two (HS2) rail line are being investigated by the Audit Commission for the misuse of public money, described by Tory MP for Weaver Vale, Graham Evans, as a “disgraceful misuse of public money”.

According to an article in the Bucks Herald in August, more than £250,000 of taxpayers’ money has been spent by councils along the route on a fund to fight HS2.

The councils, including Buckinghamshire County Council and Aylesbury Vale District Council, are reported to all belong to 51m – a group of 15 Tory run councils who are against the project.

This sum, however, may be substantially lower than the actual figures that have been spent, today’s Liverpool Daily Echo reporting that £1 million may have been spent. It has also been suggested that considerably more councils are currently being investigated by the Audit Commission.

If this is true, this could leave these councils in a heap of trouble. Not only are they spending this money in a time of major council cutbacks, but they are spending the money in direct opposition to a project that has full support at the top levels of government.

Tory-run councils in the Home Counties are funnelling money to directly oppose a project that was in the Conservative Party manifesto (p. 23, pdf), and has had continued support from transport secretary Philip Hammond, chancellor George Osborne and the prime minister himself, David Cameron telling Parliament in June:

“I believe that if we are really serious about rebalancing our economy and ensuring that we get growth across the country, and not just in the south-east, the time for high-speed rail has come. That is why it has my strong support.”

There has already been some dissent in the ranks of the Conservative party on this matter, with backbencher Andrea Leadsom (Con, South Northamptonshire) and Welsh secretary Cheryl Gillan (Con, Chesham & Amersham) – whose constituencies lie along the proposed route – leading the charge.

After the uprising from the Home Counties about the proposed changes to planning legislation, Tory-run councils misbehaving over another proposed piece of legislation will not be a further irritant to the government.

32 Responses to “Audit Commission to investigate anti-HS2 Tory councils”

  1. Dan Large

    RT @leftfootfwd: Audit Commission to investigate anti-HS2 Tory councils http://t.co/faWtRla

  2. neilrfoster

    @OtherTPA Never mind those pictures frames – what is the Taxpayers' Alliance take on this!!! >>>> http://t.co/SSBCFBb

  3. Political Planet

    Audit Commission to investigate anti-HS2 Tory councils: A number of the major district and county councils along… http://t.co/y663uep

  4. Dr. Ben Wright

    Has more than £250,000+ of taxpayers’ money been spent by councils along the route on a fund to fight High Speed Rail: http://t.co/SvumZhz

  5. Lucy James

    Audit Commission to investigate anti-HS2 Tory councils: http://t.co/yTOyqDR reports @ShamikDas #Yes2HS2 @Biz4HS2

  6. Yes To HS2

    RT @leftfootfwd: Audit Commission to investigate anti-HS2 Tory councils: http://t.co/1twidEI reports @ShamikDas #Yes2HS2 @Biz4HS2

  7. Pucci D

    Audit Commission to investigate anti-HS2 Tory councils: http://t.co/yTOyqDR reports @ShamikDas #Yes2HS2 @Biz4HS2

  8. Other TaxPayers Alli

    RT @neilrfoster: @OtherTPA Never mind those pictures frames – what is the Taxpayers' Alliance take on this!!! >>>> http://t.co/hJxXgzc

  9. Tim Fenton

    RT @neilrfoster: @OtherTPA Never mind those pictures frames – what is the Taxpayers' Alliance take on this!!! >>>> http://t.co/hJxXgzc

  10. Duncan Stott

    RT @leftfootfwd: Audit Commission to investigate anti-HS2 Tory councils http://t.co/dXmsXv0

  11. Mayhall Farm

    Another attempt to silence the countryside: Audit Commission to investigate anti-HS2 Tory councils http://t.co/4wBFIw6

  12. Duncan Stott

    Does anyone know the full list of council being investigated? Thanks.

    Twitter @DuncanStott

  13. Juan Voet

    RT @neilrfoster: @OtherTPA Never mind those pictures frames – what is the Taxpayers' Alliance take on this!!! >>>> http://t.co/hJxXgzc

  14. PNDavies

    Vast sums of public money is being used by the Government to present their pro-HS2 propaganda – as anyone who went to the flashy HS2 roadshows along the route will know, the glossy publicly-funded presentation was totally biased. Therefore there should be no complaints in a democracy that public money is also being spent to give a balanced alternative point of view. The Taxpayers’ Alliance is one of many organisations against HS2 as they believe the whole HS2 project is a total waste of public money. It’s a shame that it has to be done, but in the end the councils are fighting on behalf of their council tax payers for whom this is a huge issue – they are the ones who would suffer a great deal if the construction goes ahead. To make matters worse the councils’ taxpayers would get no benefit whatsoever from 250mph trains thundering through their towns and villages every few minutes without stopping. Therefore it is quite right that councils should be acting to defend their council tax payers. If public money is the issue here, then let’s scrap HS2 altogether and put the £33,000,000,000+ that is set to be spend on HS2 towards libraries, health service, schools and transport projects that will benefit the whole nation rather than a few rich businessmen wanting to spend less time on trains.

  15. Keiran Macintosh

    Audit Commission to investigate anti-HS2 Tory councils: http://t.co/yTOyqDR reports @ShamikDas #Yes2HS2 @Biz4HS2

  16. Richard

    How much money has the proHS2 campaign had from the government, then? The FT in June said it only raised “£120,000 from supporters, including rail companies and construction groups.”

  17. Jo Dooher

    RT @leftfootfwd: Audit Commission to investigate anti-HS2 Tory councils: http://t.co/v4O2dpq reports @ShamikDas #Yes2HS2 @Biz4HS2

  18. Mr. Sensible

    I always thought that Cameron was spoiling for a fight with his party on this…

  19. Stuart

    Yes, I very much agree with this newspaper story. It is the role of the local authorities to represent the views of all their community and to spend money locally on local services. It is only a small minority that is against HS2 in my county (Bucks). As pointed out in the local press only about 40,000 people in total responded to the HS2 consultation. If this largely represents the total number of those strongly against HS2 that is hardly a major number of people in the UK let along a county or district.

  20. Ed's Talking Balls

    ‘a project that has full support at the top levels of government.’

    But very little support, and extremely strong opposition, at grass roots level. Local people who pay their council tax would probably fail to see the scandal in local government using their money to campaign against such an obvious white elephant.

    And as PNDavies rightly points out, these sums are almost certainly going to trivial when compared with how much public money has gone to pro-HS2. Wasting billions of pounds in this climate is scandalous. How many hospitals, schools, policemen, houses, aircraft carriers, etc could we have if this money were spent sensibly instead of pumped towards a vanity project?

  21. elaine hancock

    Mr Cameron appears to be selling England to the highest bidders in the construction industry with hs2 and the new planning regulations proposed.It is obvious that especially at this time the councils would rather be spending the money on other things.This makes it clear that if so many are against it that it is so flawed they are prepared to fight it.The money that the govenment has put ito this already is huge and the amount they wish to spend obsene especially as it will destroy so much countryside.

  22. K Stephenson

    I also live in Bucks and in the year since the government announced the project I have yet to meet anyone who supports it. This government will stop at nothing to get its own way in the teeth of strong opposition. We should be investigating Philip Hammond’s profligate misuse of public money in setting up HS2 Ltd and running a flawed public consultation.

  23. Peter Davidson

    @Ed’s Talking Balls: “But very little support, and extremely strong opposition, at grass roots level.” Really – what evidence do you have to support your claim? It’s true that there is very vocal opposition in a small number of Conservative constituencies (all in close promximity to the proposed HS2 route) but across the country generally this project doesn’t really register one way or the other – of course it’s going to cost a lot of money to build a brand new rail line – outside of HS1 (Channel Tunnel rail link) we haven’t had one of those in more than a hundred years – the storm of protest unleashed by HS2 indicates just why? You claim that ordinary people paying their council tax fail to see the benefit of this scheme – what you mean is YOU fail to see the benefit of this scheme because it’s passing through your back yard! Personally I fail to see the beneifit of CrossRail or ThamesLink, two schemes (solely benefitting London) currently going ahead right now (during this period of austerity and cutbacks) yet consuming £2bn of taxpayer money each fiscal year, the very same sum that will go to HS2, over its period of construction, from 2015 onwards – why aren’t you jumping up and down about that particular waste of public money? Time to get on with HS2, PDQ!!!

  24. Mike Geddes

    You refer to leftfootforward as ‘evidence-based’. Yet you quote Philip Hammond saying that HS2 will promote growth throughout the country not just in the South East, without questioning this claim. In fact, the evidence shows that HS2 would widen the North=South divide, bringing most benefit to London. See the evidence by Professor John Tomaney to the Transport Select Committee which gives a good, objective summary of the available research. Clearly transport investment is important in underpinning economic prosperity. But again the evidence is that high speed rail is about the least effective form of transport investment in this respect. Labour’s Commission for Integrated Transport (now abolished by the Tories) was clear about this. So, are you interested in blindly repeating unsubstantiated Tory claims about HS2, or are you interested in the evidence?

  25. Ed's Talking Balls

    ‘what evidence do you have to support your claim?’

    Not having consulted opinion polls (not even being aware that one has been commissioned), none. I freely admit that all I am going off is anecdotal evidence. I have yet to meet anyone in favour of HS2.

    ‘across the country generally this project doesn’t really register one way or the other’

    I would respond by asking the same question you posed to me: what evidence do you have to support your claim? I think plenty of people do care about this and more would if the eye-watering figures were more widely known.

    ‘You claim that ordinary people paying their council tax fail to see the benefit of this scheme – what you mean is YOU fail to see the benefit of this scheme because it’s passing through your back yard!’

    Ah, the old “NIMBY” chestnut. How tiresome. I don’t live along the proposed route, for your information, or even near it. I fail to see the benefit because it’s vastly expensive; there are better ways to spend that money; anyone should be able to appreciate the importance of beautiful countryside, wherever they live; and the arguments in favour of HS2 are generally weak, e.g. that it will address the North-South divide. In fact, it’s unlikely to do so, and may well exacerbate it. This is a rich man’s railway being unsuccessfully marketed as a social leveller.

    ‘Personally I fail to see the beneifit of CrossRail or ThamesLink, two schemes (solely benefitting London) currently going ahead right now’

    I happen to agree. I don’t know what makes you think I would be in favour of those projects. If we are to spend such significant sums on rail, we should improve the existing network; extend the network to cater for areas with limited rail access, or none at all; and/or facilitate further access to the continent by train.

  26. Peter Davidson

    @Ed’s Talking Balls: “what evidence do you have to support your claim?”
    http://www.campaignforhsr.com/over-three-quarters-of-british-businesses-support-high-speed-rail

    You’ll note that the survey results had to be qualified with the phrase “who expressed their opinion” – that’s because people, generally speaking don’t know much about HS2 and/or aren’t bothered about it for two main reasons;
    1. It’s a long way off (in terms of time)
    and/or
    2. It doesn’t come anywhere near them

    Funny but I have spoken to people about this issue and like you have found anecdotally that they don’t know much about and aren’t that interested. Where I agree with you is in concerns about the total cost of this project.

    Firstly of course we need to note that the figures quoted included what is called (in Treasury speak); “optimism bias” of 40% – in short a figure deliberately increased to allow for contingencies and/or cost overruns.

    Seondly we need to focus on just why it costs so damn much to build a new high speed rail line on this side of La Manche compared with our cousins on the mainland continent. Quite recently an agreement was signed up to finance and build the new line from Tours to Bordeaux, a distance of 302km – considerably greater than phase 1 of HS2 – the total cost of this new line, including interest on the loans required – the equivalent of £7bn or 40% of the HS1 phase 1 – now I know that HS1 phase 1 includes redeveloping Euston and tunnelling in London so it’s bound to be more expensive pro-rata but the figures quoted do not bear close comparison. So I say yes to full transparency of the procurement tendering process for HS2 but I still remain fully supportive of the principle of High Speed Rail in general.

    Now when it comes to CrossRail and ThamesLink – just why do we not hear a squeak out of the anti-HS2 brigade about either of those two schemes, which just happen to benefit (exclusively) London/SE England?

    Ah, the old “NIMBY” chestnut. How tiresome.

    It may be tiresome (to you) but it is extremely relevant because 99% of the heat generated about this vexed topic comes from a tiny group of very active individuals who just happen to reside in close proximity to the proposed route

    Sorry but I happen to disagree with you – the arguments in favour of HS2 are very strong

    @Ed’s Talking Balls: “This is a rich man’s railway being unsuccessfully marketed as a social leveller.” Ah the HS2 is a rich man’s railway paid for by all of us – how tiresome. Do you have any evidence to support this grossly inaccurate and wildly exaggerated claim – thought not – so stop making this assertion

    @Ed’s Talking Balls: I don’t know what makes you think I would be in favour of those projects.

    But they’re still going full steam ahead aren’t they? When it comes to CrosRail and ThamesLinn I don’t hear any cries of NO BUSINESS CASE, NO ENVIRONMENTAL CASE, NO MONEY TO PAY FOR IT, emanating from the very vocal crowd in the Chilterns?

    @Ed’s Talking Balls: If we are to spend such significant sums on rail, we should improve the existing network; extend the network to cater for areas with limited rail access, or none at all; and/or facilitate further access to the continent by train.

    errr…..you seem to have conveniently forgotten the umpteen billion already committed to the ECML upgrade, the Great Western Line upgrade, the Northern Hub project, and the Manchester – Liverpool electrification programme, all of these proceeding during the present spending round.

    When it comes to increased access/direct connection to the continent by train only a new line constructed to European interoperability standards can do that – guess what; HS2 is built to European interoperability standards and has a direct tunnelled link to HS1, thereby facilitating the further access you’ve asked for! From day one of HS2 going into operation I’ll be able to board a service from Manchester (where I live) direct to Paris/Brussels (changing in Lille Europe for seamless transfer on to a plethora of other High Speed mainland European services)

  27. Leon Wolfeson

    “When it comes to increased access/direct connection to the continent by train only a new line constructed to European interoperability standards can do that”

    What rot. It’s perfectly possible to upgrade lines. Only a short interchange line out of London would be necessary.

    Moreover, there are still portions of main lines in this country with relatively low speed limits because they need works doing to upgrade them…which would benefit far more than the tiny number of rich businessmen who will be able to afford to travelling to the continent via the HS2.

    Strangely enough, spending money on the existing main lines for orders of magnitude more normal travellers is more beneficial…but no, you gotta defend the luxury train line.

  28. Peter Davidson

    Clearly @Leon Wolfeson, you haven’t the faintest idea what you are talking about. What short interchange line out of London would this be – please enlighten us regarding your wizard idea?

    You betray your wilful ignorance in this matter by repeating the completely unsubstantiated claim that any new line will be the exclusive preserve of a “tiny number of rich businessmen who will be able to afford to travelling to the continent via the HS2.” Please explain (in rational language) how you arrive at this bizarrre conclusion ten/fifteen years in advance of the event?

  29. Ed's Talking Balls

    Peter,

    I admit that it’s conjecture on my part to suggest that HS2 will be a rich man’s railway. However, I don’t think it’s an unreasonable assumption to make. For instance, a ticket from Birmingham to Euston is currently very expensive (and rail prices rise above inflation as a matter of course). Do you really believe that a more modern line, with quicker trains (albeit only marginally in this instance: I’ve heard that that route will only see a 20 minute time saving) will be cheaper, or even the same price?

    As for my earlier comment about my lack of knowledge vis-a-vis opinion polls, I have gone some way to rectifying this:

    http://www.hs2actionalliance.org/index.php/news/pollssurveys

    The strong trend appears to be against HS2. From what I’ve heard anecdotally this comes as no surprise. I genuinely believe the government has its priorities all wrong on this issue, and it seems I’m far from alone in holding that view.

  30. Peter Davidson

    @Ed’s Talking Balls
    I beg to differ when it comes to making reasonable/unreasonable assumptions about HS2
    The reason why I robustly challenge your (bogus?) claim is that it is a cheap shot, populist criticism designed specifically to stoke negative public opinion about HS2. Strategies that are gaining some traction, reflected in part by the (flawed/skewed) opinion polling you refer to in your comments.
    In fact there is no basis for this claim and no one (me included) can make substantiated predictions about the future fare structure of services running on a line that is 10/15 years distant!
    What we do know however is that the line will be built to European interoperable standards, which facilitates direct head to head competition between different providers. We’ll have a sneak preview of the impact such competition will bring quite soon when Deutsche Bahn start their direct Frankfurt/Amsterdam > London service not so long from now; maybe next year but more likely in 2013. They’ve gone on public record with their offer of a one way fare of 49€ – which direction do we honestly believe that fares will be going once the monopoly currently enjoyed by Eurostar is broken – somehow I think they’ll be dropping very quickly!
    Of course there will always be premium fare prices on any train service at peak times when premium (business) customers operate in the market – that’s a basic function of the laws of supply and demand – but to make the jump from that no brainer outcome and forecast that the new line will be the exclusive preserve of rich people is not just inaccurate – it’s just plain mendacious lies designed for propaganda purposes only.
    When I quoted the report I referred to earlier I should have qualified my remarks by saying, don’t take the figures quoted as any kind of reliable indicator of sentiment – I used that survey just to indicate the basic level of public ignorance about HS2 – people aren’t bothered that much one way or the other about HS2 just yet, principally because it’s a long way yet!
    In similar vein, I’d assert that the report you have referenced from HS2 Action Alliance is just so much grist to the mill – both sides of this argument are busy churning out statistics to support their viewpoints. The campaign has quickly descended into a tit for tat lowest common denominator struggle for the hearts and minds of the general public – hardly the most objective way to consider the merits of this multi-billion £ scheme.
    I support the principle of High Speed Rail.
    I support the principle of a new line built to the common operating standard I’ve mentioned for the reasons stated above.
    I also support the principle of a new route to avoid the proven disruption of building alongside an existing transport corridor (either of the M40 or M1 routes would result in many more homes and businesses facing massive upheaval compared with the currently proposed route).
    I agree that the present proposals need improving;
    Why was Euston chosen?
    Just why does the whole scheme cost so much?
    etc. etc.
    but these remain peripheral challenges.
    The central core of the strategy to roll out High Speed rail to the rest of the UK is sound and should be backed. The proposals enjoy cross party consensus (almost unheard of in British politics!) and are long overdue – the UK is generally two decades behind continental Europe. Demand for rail services is only going one way in the future and High Speed rail is the only credible answer to the inexorably growing capacity shortfall – of course it doesn’t address all of the problems, no single scheme can, but it’s a start (for the rest of the UK outside the London/SE nexus) and one that is long overdue – we should get on with HS2 right now and compress the timescale for completion so that the undoubted benefits flowing from the scheme become apparent all the more quickly – once the public sees the positive outcome of HS2, they’ll be clamouring for their particular areas to be the next to jump on board the High Speed Rail revolution!

  31. M. Wahlberg

    Yesterday, in his submission to the Transport Select Committee, Philip Hammond (S of S for Transport) confirmed that HS2 will be “a rich man’s toy”. He said this as part of his justification for spending around £17 BILLION + on the new train line that he wants between Birmingham and London. He does not mind that it will be a “rich man’s toy”. Despite all the hand wringing spin about the current HS2 project having a ‘transformational effect’ on the whole country – solving the north-south divide at a stroke – his comments to the TSC clear the air. HS2 is pivotally about turning Birmingham into another London airport now that the expansion of Heathrow has been curtailed. He has said it often but not everyone has been listening to that bit.

    Not only will taxpayers be subsidising the capital costs of this “rich man’s toy” (£1,000+ from each family wherever they live and whatever the condition of their own transport services), but there will be continuing annual subsidies for the rich men to use this line too. This is intended to be coupled with a REDUCTION in the subsidies in all other services in part to make room for the massive subsidy that HS2 will need. Now, put together the most profitable fares being streamed onto HS2, and the reduction of subsidies on the competing classic lines, and you will see why cities ‘off the line’ – Coventry, Black Country, Northampton, Leicester etc increasingly realise that HS2 will mean WORSE services for them coupled with the high probability that jobs from their areas will be sucked towards the enterprise zones and greenfield sites intended to be based around the few HS2 stations. Wake up Labour – where is the progressive agenda in this? There IS an alternative! And heaven help us if he gets to spend the £32 Billion+ on extending this “rich man’s toy” up to Manchester airport, East Midland’s airport and Leeds airport. We all want investment for jobs and greater equity between the regions and London – but HS2 will not deliver this. Yes to investing in, speeding up and modernising rail for all regions, but no to the “rich man’s toy” HS2 project.

  32. Peter Davidson

    @M.Wahlberg: “Yesterday, in his submission to the Transport Select Committee, Philip Hammond (S of S for Transport) confirmed that HS2 will be “a rich man’s toy”.”

    He didn’t actually say that in the terms you infer but hey, why let a little thing called proper context get in the way of good catchphrase? Mr. Hammond simply confirmed what we knew already – that all railways are generally patronised by upper income quintiles of any given population. Nothing new there then?

    It creates good copy to make utterly bogus claims, ten/fifteen years in advance of the first train services, implying that the new high speed line will be the exclusive preserve of rich business account fuelled executives, whizzing around Europe whilst hard working ordinary taxpayers fund their excesses with our hard earned taxes – of course this notion is a misleading mirage, constructed to bamboozle public opinion and apply pressure on decision makers.

    My postcode is SK9 7** and when phase 2 of HS2 is built the line will run perhaps 3km from my house yet I strongly support HS2 (and HS3,4&5 quickly thereafter) because it will deliver massive benefits for UK plc – perhaps you could share your postcode, @M.Wahlberg, which might go some way to explaining your implacable opposition to this long overdue project bringing the UK’s rail infrastructure into the 21st century?

Leave a Reply