Thursday, August 12, 2021

Yet Another Attack on HS2 as Cabinet Secretary Fails to Supply a Substantive Answer

Accusations of Ministerial Fraud Glossed Over According to Lord Berkeley
Shipping News Feature

UK – Regular readers will have doubtless noted the strong feelings held by Lord Tony Berkeley, an acknowledged expert in the field of commercial rail transport, with regard to the ever burgeoning budget of HS2. With doubts increasing over the viability of the project Lord Berkeley is clearly incandescent with rage over the latest response from the Cabinet Secretary.

Kicking the can down the road, or into the long grass, seems now to be a standard government tactic when asked questions it fears to answer. Having written an open letter in July accusing those responsible of misleading Parliament and committing Ministerial fraud Berkeley was not impressed by the response he received.

That response seems to have been another well-worn political tactic, referring the complaint to those who were being attacked to respond, rather than having it independently investigated. On August 4 Berkeley said that, as the principal source of the fraud was the Department for Transport, it was surprising the Cabinet Secretary did not feel it appropriate to investigate or even reply independently rather than ask the accused to respond in its own defence.

Now Berkeley has again written to Simon Case, Cabinet Secretary asking him for a reply to the letter of 9 July and quoting Sir Tim Lankester, a previous permanent secretary, who, he says, is perhaps best known for his work in upholding the integrity and independence of the civil service against overbearing ministerial interests in linking overseas aid to arms sales. Lankester is quoted as saying:

 ”Dear Tony, Like you, I think the continuing deception over the costs of HS2 is an absolute disgrace. We had come to expect this from ministers, trying to protect their own backs and trying to protect the project's credibility against mounting evidence that it is a gigantic waste of the nation's scarce resources. But what I find utterly horrible, and in some ways even worse, is the Permanent Secretary's complicity in this deception.

*Her weasel words distinguishing between what she said was in the budget and what the project will cost are utterly unacceptable from a senior civil servant, or indeed from any civil servant. And this is no ordinary deception when we are talking about a project costing more than £100 billion. Yours, Tim.”

Strong stuff indeed, to end the current letter to Simon Case Berkeley leaves little room for misinterpretation, ending:

”So I suggest that you owe it to your colleagues, to officials and members of parliament, as well as to members of the public, to provide a substantive response to my letter of 9 July 2021. Without such a response, supported by evidence which would enable a proper debate to take place, I fear that the reputation of this Government, supported by a professional and independent civil service, for financial probity, for transparency and general competence will be severely and adversely affected.”

One fears the silence may be deafening, reading through the arguments on either side one cannot avoid the fact that HS”, like a myriad other government contracts, will be neither on time or, more importantly, anywhere near the original budget for the project.

* Berkeley accused Transport Mnister at the time, Nus Ghani of witholding her knowledge of budget increases, and Civil Servant Bernadette Kelley of hiding her knowledge of a three year delay and a £7 buillion budget overrun from the Public Accounts Committee.

To read more about the chronological development and raging arguments on this matter simply type HS2 into the News Search box at the head of the page.