HS2: Parts of construction delayed for two years
The massive salaries paid to senior executives managing the ballooning £100billion budget for the HS2 rail project were branded “purely shameful” last night.
Three top managers alone were paid more than £1.36million between them for overseeing the project and more than 40 executive colleagues earned in excess of £150,000.
Conservative MP Craig Mackinlay was outraged and said: “Never in the history of British rail projects has so much been paid by so many, to so many…for so little.”
The outgoing chief executive of HS2 Mark Thurston, 56, enjoyed an annual package of £676,763 and lives in a £1.4million five bedroom house in Coulsdon Surrey.
His Chief Financial Officer Alan Foster, 52, earned £370,449 and he and his family live in a £1.6million home within a gated cul-de-sac in one the village of Dorridge near Solihull in Birmingham.
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Chief Commercial Officer Ruth Todd CBE, 54, earned £313,055 and lives the charming village of Ratley outside Banbury in Oxfordshire.
Unlike the hundreds of dwellings that have been flattened to make way for HS2 none of the executives’ properties is troubled by the new line.
Mr Mackinlay described the salaries of the top directors and their many highly-paid colleagues at HS2 as shameful. He said: “I have never seen a project overrun so enormously with such an enormous senior management team salary bill.
“It is purely shameful and the British taxpayer is right to ask some very probing questions about what has gone wrong.
“I’m left attempting to paraphrase Winston Churchill, by saying that never in the history of British rail projects has so much been paid by so many, to so many…for so little.”
He added that the project had been doomed to massive cost overruns from “from its inception”.
He said: “It fell off its own tracks almost immediately. I know it is a complex issue, they’ve come across a lot of archaeological problems and all sorts of stuff on the way.
“It has expanded under its own weight, often quite rightly because of local concerns and a lot of that was not entirely foreseen.
“But effective oversight has been lost on this. What we’ve ended up with is not an inter-city train service at all. It’s a nice to have trinket that has lost its economic reality.”
He added that HS2 highlighted how planning bureaucracy had made it almost impossible to deliver large infrastructure projects within the UK.
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He said: “The cost overrun shows we have created planning and bureaucratic mechanisms that binds everything up.
“No other country on the planet has tied itself up in so many knots when it comes to implementing big infrastructure projects and it makes me fear for the future of the country.
“We are coming to a standstill and we need something very very substantial to change.”
Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg also objected to the salaries being paid and said the taxpayer had a right to expect private-sector levels of competence for such generous remuneration.
He said: “The idea behind paying lots of money to people is that you will then get the virtues of the private sector brought to bear.
“But in fact you haven’t, you’ve just got very high salaries for people in the public sector, who haven’t run the project very well. And that doesn’t really help anybody. It’s been very expensive to the taxpayer.
“I do not object to paying high salaries to people who do a good job but paying into the millions for people who are running a project that’s massively over budget is not sensible. It’s not value for money.”
John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “These salaries will anger taxpayers who see the spiralling costs of HS2.
“HS2 bosses are among the highest paid public servants in the country.
“The government should scrap this white elephant and save cash on these bloated salaries as a bonus.”
The Prime Minister is said to be concerned at the level of remuneration of top people at HS2 and is “not prepared” to allow the costs of the project to escalate to predicted levels in excess of £100billion.
Rishi Sunak is also angry at claims that the line had been deliberately “overengineered” with miles more tunnels than originally planned and the longest railway viaduct in the UK included with a two mile span across the Colne Valley north west of London.
Executives were accused of behaving like “kids with the golden credit card” in their attitudes to spending on the project according to one official.
The source told The Times: “It seems that the mantra of HS2 bosses has been to massively overspend all along to make it too big to kill. From the start they were like kids with the golden credit card.”
It is understood that the cost of Phase 1, London to Birmingham, will “absolutely bust” the most pessimistic contingency plans, of £44.6billion.
When the project was announced the budget for its entirety was about £30billion and it is now expected to cost more than £100billion, even allowing for the fact that a line from Birmingham to Leeds has been scrapped.
Sunak is considering cancelling the northern leg of HS2 between Birmingham and Manchester and terminating the line at Old Oak Common in west London rather than in Euston to save money.
He wants to reallocate savings to other regional transport projects including Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) between Manchester and Leeds.
He is expected to delay a decision until the autumn statement in the face of a backlash from senior Conservatives.
Former Tory Chancellor Lord Hammond of Runnymede, said that the project risked becoming a white elephant if it was not finished and Patrick McLoughlin, a former transport secretary, said that scaling it back would be “completely wrong”.
It means that two former Tory prime ministers, three former chancellors and a former transport secretary are all opposed to cutting the line short.
An HS2 spokesperson said: “HS2 is Europe’s biggest infrastructure project and it is necessary to employ people with the right level of expertise to deliver it successfully.
“HS2 Ltd is committed to controlling costs and takes its responsibility towards value-for-money very seriously.
“Executive salaries are signed off by the Department for Transport and Treasury. Remuneration is also benchmarked against comparable organisations and managed in line with the government’s public sector pay policy.”
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