HS2: more than £280 million spent on consultants in past seven years for 'runaway gravy train' rail link

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It comes as Rishi Sunak remains under pressure to confirm whether the Birmingham to Manchester link of the project will be scrapped

At least £230 million has been spent on consultancy for the HS2 project over the past seven years, despite bosses promising to crackdown on external contractors.

The controversial rail project, which hit the headlines this week as the Prime Minister refused to confirm rumours that the Birmingham to Manchester link will be scrapped, has seen the government-owned company paying £102m to PwC and £86m to Deloitte. In addition to this, £25m has been paid to Ernst & Young, with a further £9m also going to KPMG.

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Bosses of the project had previously pledged to cut down on external contractor costs, as the cost of the overall project continued to balloon. The latest figures has put the cost of HS2 at £77bn to date, with this expected to rise to £90bn when costs are revised later this year.

Dr David Crosthwaite, chief economist at the Building Cost Information Service, said: “We’ve just had the delivery of a massively delayed and over budget project — Crossrail. You would think they would learn from their mistakes but they don’t.

"Decades ago, there was the public works department that essentially had responsibility for costing business case development and everything to do with delivering public projects,” he said. “But that was in a completely different era and no longer exists. So the capability is not in-house, meaning they have to go out to consultants who are going to charge whatever they can get away with.”

Penny Gaines, chairwoman of Stop HS2, has described the project as a "consultant's gravy train". She added: “Over the last few days, organisations who directly benefit from the construction of HS2, or will have HS2 stations on their doorsteps, have seen the likelihood of cancellation and they’ve come out desperately fighting for the government to continue to build HS2. But what they really want is to continue to snaffle the money up, with their snouts in the trough of taxpayer’s money.”

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The second phase of the HS2 rail link is in peril after it was reported that the government is considering scrapping the Birmingham to Manchester link, effectively shutting the North out of the project which aimed to increase connectivity to these areas.

In a recent media round, Sunak repeatedly refused to confirm that the leg will be scrapped when quizzed by BBC local news journalists ahead of the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester. The Prime Minister dodged questions over the High Speed rail link's future a whopping 14 times, instead opting to say that he is "not speculating on future things".

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