Politics

HS2 boss admits cost of railway could soar to £66.6bn. Here’s how that money could be better spent

As the projected cost of HS2 continues to soar, we explore other ways in which the government could spend the cash

The cost of building HS2 between London and Birmingham has soared to £66.6bn, the Transport Select Committee has been told.

In 2009, the ailing high-speed rail network was originally estimated to cost £20bn for the entire network, which was to include much-needed link-ups with Leeds and Manchester. However, while in Manchester for the Conservative Party Conference in 2023, prime minister Rishi Sunak announced he was scrapping much of the network despite significant investment having already been made.

HS2 Ltd boss Sir Jon Thompson has now revealed to MPs that the estimated cost has skyrocketed way higher than originally thought. He asked MPs to adjust for current prices, which will involve adding “somewhere between eight and £10 billion” onto the existing price tag of “somewhere between £49bn and £56.6bn”. What’s a couple of billion extra anyway?

Well, there are quite a few things the government could splash £66.6bn on – here’s how that money could be spent better. 

Updating the insulation in draughty homes for the next 11 years

Labour’s Green Prosperity Plan (GPP) has pledged to allocate £6bn a year for a home insulation programme to improve energy efficiency. As it stands, 57% of low to middle-income households live in homes with an EPC rating of ‘D’ or below – meaning their homes are draughty, cold buildings.

The estimated cost of HS2 could upgrade homes for 11 years, with a cool £600m as spare change.

1.3 million state-of-the-art council playgrounds

In March of last year, it was reported that more than 793 playgrounds had been closed in the UK since 2013. And with one-in-five councils at risk of issuing bankruptcy notices, this number is inevitably going to rise.

A large council playground can be bought for £55,000. So, for the cost of those high-speed railways, the government could buy 1.3 million playgrounds for children across the country. 

Bid adieu to queues for the swings and overcrowded monkey bars – with 12.7 million under the age of 16 in this country, that’s one playground for every nine children. 

The next 147 years of the free bus pass scheme

In 2023, local councils reported a £452 million gap in the funding they receive from government for the national concessionary bus fares scheme, compared to the actual number of journeys made. The scheme gives free off-peak bus travel to people of pension age and disabled people.

If they had this kind of cash, local councils could fund the free bus pass scheme for the next 147 years. So, when your grandchildren’s children are in their 80s, rest assured they can pop to the shops free of charge.

Compensation for 111,000 Post Office branch owner-operators

As part of the messy mop-up of the Post Office scandal, the government announced that every postmaster whose conviction relied on Horizon evidence and has now been overturned will be offered £600,000 to settle their claim.

As it stands, only 93 branch managers have had their convictions overturned, but more than 700 were given criminal convictions. 

So, even if all of these are overturned and compensated, that leaves £66.1bn of HS2 cash left over. A couple thousand playgrounds as an add-on for each of them then?

584 sequels to the Barbie movie

In case you forgot for one blissful moment, Barbie was, like, the movie of the decade. Its omnipresent advertising, star cast and elaborate sets and costuming cost a total of $145 million (£113.9m) and has grossed nearly $1.5bn at the global box office to date.

But it can’t end there. How about a prequel? What about a Ken movie spin-off? Or a Dua Lipa-starring rom-com mermaid musical? Surely there’s room for a bloody Barbie horror – whereby Margot Robbie enters the real world with a misandrous thirst for revenge?

Whichever direction they take it in, with this budget, we could trial and error 584 more Barbie films.

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