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HS2: Will Hutton’s passionate plea to avoid a relapse into short-termism

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Writing in the Guardian Will Hutton states that: the HS2 project should not fall victim to a disastrous short-termist culture that hampers vital public investment. Britain does not believe in investment – as is painfully obvious in both the private and public sectors. British-owned companies have a baleful record on investment and innovation. Public sector investment is no better, where all big projects since the second world war – from the Channel tunnel to the M25 and London’s east-west Crossrail – have been bitterly opposed by the Treasury before finally going ahead. In a short–termist culture only costs are certain, but evaluating benefits is made even harder by multiple institutional and methodological obstacles.

So it is with HS2. The costs are certain, and easy to inflate, as recently both the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Treasury have done in a leak to the Financial Times, conflating everything they possibly could. The IEA’s position is understandable – it even includes the cost of a potential north-south Crossrail in its figures, which is a discrete project from HS2. But as it openly acknowledges, the only rail investment it could support is that which pays for itself with no public subsidy – in other words, none at all. In an IEA universe we would forego mobility unless via privately funded toll roads.

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