February 28, 2019 Thursday 9:30 PM GMT
HS2 budget 'out of control' as it spends £6,000 on inflatable photo booths
By Gordon Rayner, Political Editor
Ministers have been accused of allowing spending on HS2 to run out of control after it emerged that bosses spent £650,000 of taxpayers' money on a promotional film and more than £6,000 on inflatable photo booths.
Department for Transport figures show that another £733,000 was spent on office furniture, including desks that averaged £745 each, with £326m spent on consultancy and professional fees.
To date, HS2 has cost more than £4 billion before any track has been laid, with the £56bn project expected by some to double in cost by the time it is finished.
Critics say that no-one in Government has taken control of the budget, as HS2 is being run as an "arm's length" project, semi-independent of the Department for Transport.
Figures for 2009-2018 compiled by the Combined Yorkshire Campaign Groups - a collective of anti-HS2 campaigners in the region - show that £8 million has been spent on brand promotion, with a further £27,000 spent on theatre-based workshops, £96,000 for a "pop up shop" at Euston station and £170,000 spent on "film production".
A total of £6,360 was paid to a hire company for inflatable party photo booths, with another £48,000 paid to a firm that runs workshops to make employees "happier and more productive".
The campaigners described HS2 as "a consultant's dream" with millions spent on professional fees and services despite the project employing 1,600 people, a quarter of whom earn more than £100,000 and 15 of whom earn more than £250,000.
Dame Cheryl Gillan, the Conservative MP for Chesham and Amersham and a staunch opponent of HS2, said: "The supervision of this project and the corporate governance is deeply lacking.
"Everyone involved in it says it's a marvellous project but any fool can spend Government money.
"The people at the top change rapidly, the Government doesn't have command and control because it's an arm's length project, and it's all in the hands of a junior minister, which just isn't enough."
Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, has insisted HS2 will be delivered on budget, despite warnings from Sir Terry Morgan, who was sacked as HS2 chairman last year, that it would cost more than £100bn by the time it was finished.
HS2 will link London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds using 250mph trains and is due to be completed by 2033.
An HS2 Ltd spokesperson said: "HS2 is a once in a generation opportunity to transform Britain's economy and we are committed to delivering value for money for the taxpayer."
"We do not use PR agencies and only advertise to promote community engagement events and support recruitment. We have a duty to inform and consult with people and communities affected by a project of this size."