The Sunday Telegraph

Cummings attacks PM for sign-off on £100bn HS2

- By Edward Malnick and Steve Bird

BORIS JOHNSON signed off on the £100billion High Speed 2 rail line based on “garbage” data predicting an exponentia­l increase in demand for the service, Dominic Cummings has claimed.

In a posting on the Substack website, the Prime Minister’s former chief adviser said he and other officials had highlighte­d “absurditie­s” in the evidence presented to Mr Johnson to justi fy pressing ahead with the constructi­on of the line last year.

But Mr Johnson “blew” the decision on whether to go ahead with the scheme having been presented with a “garbage model/graph”, Mr Cummings wrote.

While his latest comments will deepen the rift between Mr Johnson and his former advisor, they will also add to the growing clamour for the controvers­ial high-speed rail scheme connecting Northern cities to the capital to be scrapped. For years, senior Tories have warned it will not provide value for money.

Mr Cummings writes how in January 2020, Mr Johnson “was presented with ‘evidence’ showing exponentia­l increase in HS2 demand – demand that, if taken seriously, would have meant the entire country either travelling on HS rail” and even “building HS3/HS4/ HS5 in even shorter periods after 2040”.

Mr Johnson gave the project the goahead the following month, despite conceding its final cost would “probably be north of £100billion.”

Mr Cummings goes on to claim those same officials who produced the data were later responsibl­e for trying to manage the “exponentia­l Covid curve”. He adds: “We escaped total disaster partly because we had started to bring into No 10 people who could reason quantitati­vely and talk technicall­y with the modellers, cutting out the layers of management and PowerPoint-creators that had obscured reality.

“We could then put accurate graphs in front of the PM and improve decisions.” He accused “many organisati­ons” of having relied on consultant­s “slotting in charts from models they don’t understand”. However, he claimed the most successful bosses “dispense with this model” and adopt a “new set of skills” to better thrive.

Last year, the public accounts committee accused the Department for Transport of withholdin­g informatio­n about HS2’s spiralling costs, as MPs said they were “unconvince­d” the budget would not increase yet further.

Sir Bernard Jenkin, a member of the committee, then wrote in The Sunday Telegraph how the “lack of transparen­cy” regarding the planned rail link “undermines public confidence that HS2 is necessary or subject to accountabl­e governance”.

The committee’s report noted how the High Speed 2 budget had soared from £55.7billion to £88billion, adding how they were also “not yet convinced the Department [of Transport] and HS2 have the skills and capability they need now or in the future”.

Last week, HS2 conceded the cost of the station in Birmingham had ballooned by £100million before builders had even submitted bids to try to win the lucrative contract. It will now cost £370million.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “We do not recognise the evidence being referred to in the blog in question.”

‘The “evidence”, if taken seriously, would mean the entire country travelling on high-speed rail’

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