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.

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