British high-speed rail project HS2 accused of huge fraud
Britain’s beleaguered high-speed rail project HS2 has been accused of scandalous levels of fraud and mismanagement of funds amid soaring costs and government cut backs. The line, originally intended to connect much of the country, has been reduced to little more than a shuttle between west London and Birmingham. Now, newspaper The Sunday Times in the UK has published an extensive report, claiming that whistleblowers, worried by the situation, were quietly bought off and offered generous redundancy terms.
Allegations of a cover-up at HS2 have been made public in an extensive newspaper investigation over the weekend. The Sunday Times in the UK has published allegations from whistleblowers that say the UK parliament was kept in the dark regarding the genuine expenses associated with HS2. They say that elected members were therefore unaware of the true (higher) costs when voting on legislation pertinent to the project. One of the outraged insiders went so far as to label the affair as a “fraud against the British people”.
The whistleblowers from HS2 Ltd, the company overseeing the high-speed rail project, assert that senior management orchestrated efforts to downplay the true costs of HS2. These insiders claim they were instructed to deceive about the financial position, with the intention of securing continued funding worth billions.
HS2 vehemently denies any wrongdoing
Speaking to radio media in the UK, respected travel journalist Simon Calder said that he was astonished to read that whistleblowers were being routinely paid off (made redundant) rather than having their concerns issued. He also said that the exposé in the Sunday Times newspaper quoted officials at the HS2 company despairing over new ways to down play the cost of the project. As costs began to escalate, high-ranking officials purportedly resorted to extreme measures, including document shredding and the dismissal of dissenting voices, to shield the project from collapsing under the weight of its financial burden.
These Sunday Times revelations are likely to unfold into a vast scandal. It threatens to deliver a damaging blow to the credibility of the UK government’s oversight, and raises pressing questions about the stewardship of public funds. The gravity of these allegations has prompted an internal probe by HS2’s dedicated fraud unit, tasked with delving into claims of a deliberate concealment of the project’s true costs. In response, HS2 vehemently denies any wrongdoing, asserting its commitment to transparency and accountability.
Concerted effort to prevent scrutiny
However, despite a vigorous and active media communications unit, pumping out daily news about the project, HS2 has repeatedly been accused of failing in its communications with individuals and communities affected by the vast civil engineering project, or to provide compensation fast enough. Back in 2021, a BBC investigation found that there were shortcomings over the way HS2 responded to concerns from communities along the route. In one individual case, the company was found to be seriously damaging peoples’ lives.”HS2’s repeated maladministration had a devastating impact on the complainant and their family,” said Rob Behrens, who remains in post as the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.
Long term outspoken critic of the project, Lord Tony Berkeley, who is a former chair of the industry’s Rail Freight Group, has often accused HS2 Ltd of committing cover-ups and fraud. Back in 2019, in a speech to the House of Lords Grand Committee, he raised the issue of whistleblowers being hushed up and paid off, and claimed that a former chair of the HS2 company signed off the estimates of cost for the project, knowing they were incorrect. “The evidence of cost overruns, cover-ups and, I must say, fraud and worse are rampant”, he said. “I fear that there is a concerted effort by officials and successive ministers to prevent scrutiny of the costs and programme, to refuse to discuss ways to reduce costs and generally to batten down the hatches.”
Shocking waste of taxpayers’ money
Earlier this year, an insider, frustrated by the situation, told us that work already carried out was being “trashed” rather than mothballed on sections of the line where progress was in doubt. Subsequently, the government did cancel much of the project, abandoning the route north of Birmingham to Manchester. As far back as 2017 the project has been under scrutiny for irregularities on a massive scale. Six years ago, the the National Audit Office, the official spending watchdog, revealed that almost two million pounds (2.4 million euro) had been spent on unauthorised redundancy payouts to staff working for HS2 Ltd.
The company offered staff compulsory and voluntary redundancy schemes at enhanced terms, giving higher cash payments than the levels authorised by the Department for Transport (DfT). At the time, the Commons Public Accounts Committee issued a verdict, describing the payments as “a shocking waste of taxpayers’ money”. Costs have soared on the project, with some estimates putting the final bill in excess of 100 billion pounds (117 billion euro). If only they knew then what they might know now, that committee may have reserved its superlatives for later.