Scrap white ele­phant projects, says Truss

The Sunday Telegraph - - Front page - By Edward Mal­nick SUN­DAY PO­LIT­I­CAL ED­I­TOR

MIN­IS­TERS must be pre­pared to scrap ex­pen­sive “white ele­phant” projects to help “un­leash the econ­omy” af­ter Brexit, the Chief Sec­re­tary to the Trea­sury says to­day.

Liz Truss, who is lead­ing a re­view of Gov­ern­ment spend­ing this year, says she will ex­am­ine “all ma­jor in­vest­ment projects” funded by White­hall to judge their con­tri­bu­tion to pros­per­ity.

The an­nounce­ment is likely to be wel­comed by Tory MPs op­posed to pro- jects such as the £56bil­lion High Speed 2 rail line.

In an ar­ti­cle hail­ing The Sun­day Tele­graph’s cam­paign for a greater de­fence of free mar­kets, Ms Truss, seen as a pos­si­ble party lead­er­ship con­tender, says Brexit should be used as a chance to give vot­ers more con­trol over their lives.

She says low taxes are “a route to self-de­ter­mi­na­tion” and sug­gests Bri­tain should be learn­ing from Tokyo’s lib­eral plan­ning sys­tem as a model for cre­at­ing more af­ford­able homes. She also warned against a “spend­ing bid­ding war with Labour”. She states: “We will con­duct a zero-based cap­i­tal re­view – ex­am­in­ing all ma­jor in­vest­ment projects across gov­ern­ment and judg­ing their con­tri­bu­tion to fu­ture pros­per­ity.

“We will also look at how bud­gets con­trib­ute to hu­man cap­i­tal, in­clud­ing how much they gen­uinely boost as­pi­ra­tion and op­por­tu­nity. In re­view­ing this ev­i­dence, we must be pre­pared to junk the white ele­phants, the pro­grammes that haven’t worked.”

Take Back Con­trol is the defin­ing po­lit­i­cal mes­sage of our time, but what does it mean in prac­tice? To the Left it trans­lates as putting power in the hands of the Gov­ern­ment to run our lives. For the Con­ser­va­tive Party, Take Back Con­trol must mean lift­ing up the in­di­vid­ual – and that’s why we launched our Cam­paign for Cap­i­tal­ism last year, to pro­mote a smaller state, freer mar­kets and eco­nomic lib­erty.

Liz Truss, in an ex­cel­lent ar­ti­cle in these pages, makes it clear that she agrees with us, and the reader can in­fer some in­ci­sive crit­i­cisms of the sta­tus quo. There has been “mis­sion creep” in gov­ern­ment; “vested in­ter­ests” shape poli­cies to their own ben­e­fit. Ms Truss calls it “bad pol­i­tics to think we could ever win a spend­ing bid­ding war with Labour”, which is pre­cisely what the Gov­ern­ment has tried to do with its pledge to splash £20bil­lion on the NHS. Labour has promised to match the fig­ure and in­crease it.

More­over, when Ms Truss makes ref­er­ence to “white ele­phants”, many read­ers could prob­a­bly draw up their own list, from green en­ergy projects to the for­eign aid tar­get, and not for­get­ting the hulk­ing great mam­moth that is HS2. High speed rail’s orig­i­nal price tag was £34bil­lion; it now stands at £56bil­lion and some fear it could cost over £100bil­lion. There will be ben­e­fits, of course, but they will be swamped by such mind­bog­glingly high costs. The Gov­ern­ment has got to stop plug­ging away at this ex­pen­sive scheme and have the courage to drop it. The money should ei­ther be used for tax cuts or for small, high­er­value-added projects, such as road by­passes.

As Ms Truss writes, the so­lu­tions to a lot of Bri­tain’s chal­lenges lie in look­ing abroad: to Ja­pan for rail­ways, to Canada for in­fra­struc­ture and Amer­ica for en­ergy pol­icy. The goal should be to de­liver value for money and ex­pand op­por­tu­nity and au­ton­omy. Free­dom doesn’t just be­stow ma­te­rial wealth, it has a moral qual­ity, be­cause when peo­ple are truly in­de­pen­dent they have to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for them­selves and their fam­i­lies and thus make bet­ter choices. Hope­fully the Con­ser­va­tive Party will seek to re­turn real con­trol to the peo­ple in 2019.

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