The escalating costs of HS2 have once again been questioned by one of the most vocal MPs against the construction of the rail project.
Speaking in the House of Commons, during a minister’s transport question debate, Cheryl Gillan, the MP for Chesham and Amersham, wanted to know who was controlling the Department for Transport’s spending after she obtained information which showed that agency staff spending for the last six months of 2018 had totalled nearly £5.7m.
The money which was spent on just 89 agency staff members worked out an annual salary of £120,000. Overnight accommodation for employees staying away from home cost £600,000 in 2018.
The outspoken MP who has often been critical of the rail scheme has once again called for the project to be scrapped and demanded the money be spent elsewhere.
Gillan said: “Who is controlling the money in the Department for Transport? In a written answer this week, the minister tells me that in the last six months of 2018, HS2 spent £5,663,422 on 89 agency staff per month. That equates to just in excess of £120,000 in an annual salary. What on earth is going on in HS2? Who is making the taxpayer pay these amazingly overpaid prices for personnel on HS2? It is a waste of money; cancel it.”
Responding in parliament, HS2 minister Nusrat Ghani remarked on how her fellow Conservative MP had been a “doughty and particularly inquisitive member of parliament” for her constituents.
Without making any reference to the figures mentioned, Ghani repeated how transformative the project could be for the UK.
The minister said: “She (Gillan) knows that there is a set budget to deliver HS2, and we must not forget the benefits it will bring across our country, demolishing the north-south divide and building a fairer country. This is more than a transport project; it is a transformative project linking eight of our 10 cities and investing in the midlands and the north of our country.”
Meanwhile on a visit to Leeds, HS2 chief executive Mark Thurston during an interview with BBC Look North, conceded that the final cost of the network could not be established for some time until all the contractors had been appointed.
During his visit to Leeds-based Soil Engineering Ltd, Thurston reiterated how transformative HS2 will be and insisted on how it was providing more jobs for local people. The firm has reported a 35% growth in business after spending four years investigating ground conditions for construction of the Birmingham to London route.
“The HS2 project is a once in a lifetime opportunity for firms from all parts of the UK to get involved and help deliver Britain’s new high speed railway,” Thurston added. “Soil Engineering Geoscience is a great example of a business that has already got on board with HS2. It’s clear to see that they’re benefiting from the investment happening now, which is enabling them to sustain jobs for local people, apprentices and graduates, increase their capacity and grow their business.”