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08.01.19

Concerns raised over HS2 as Treasury chief warns government must be prepared to scrap ‘white elephant’ projects

Chief secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss has warned that HS2 could be scrapped as she said the government must be prepared to “junk white elephant” projects after Brexit.

Truss is leading a major government spending review this year and says she is examining “all major investment projects” funded by Whitehall to judge their contribution to the nation’s prosperity.

Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, she warned that ministers must be prepared to pull the plug on big flagship projects with spiralling costs rather than sit back and allow “mission creep.”

The Treasury secretary stated she wanted to weed out programmes that were failing, had become outdated, or had diverged from their original mission, adding that day-to-day spending would be reviewed using new criteria to ensure the best results.

The comments come as HS2 – which will link London to the Midlands, Leeds and Manchester by high-speed rail – balloons in cost, with officials fearing the project could well exceed its £56bn budget.

Last month, its chairman Sir Terry Morgan resigned from his post after controversial delays and spiralling costs to his other major rail project Crossrail had reportedly caused the government to doubt his ability to deliver HS2.

Campaigners and some MPs have heavily criticised the flagship project and called for it to be scrapped, and a few weeks ago a whistleblower revealed that the land cost estimate given to MPs before they approved HS2 was “enormously wrong.”

Liz Truss said: “In reviewing this evidence, we must be prepared to junk the white elephants, the programmes that haven't worked, and roll back mission creep, where government involves itself in areas the private sector can deliver.

“Growth and bang-for-buck must take precedence.”

Truss cautioned that Brexit meant that “people won’t want powers being handed back from bureaucrats in Brussels to be given to bureaucrats in Britain,” and said politicians “must heed the demand” of Leave voters.

“Of course it needs to provide essential services, public goods and defence of the realm.

“But when decisions do have to be taken, it should be by those who are accountable to the electorate, not unelected quangos.”

Image credit -  unreguser/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

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