'Programmes that have gone over budget need to be looked at,' Michael Gove says, amid speculation over HS2

1 October 2023, 10:16

Michael Gove said that getting value for money was 'critically important'
Michael Gove said that getting value for money was 'critically important'. Picture: LBC/Alamy

By Kit Heren

Michael Gove has warned that projects that go over budget "need to be looked at" as speculation swirls about the future of HS2.

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Speaking to LBC's Andrew Castle, the influential Cabinet minister said that "value for money" was "absolutely critical".

Work began on HS2 in 2017, after years of planning with the goal of linking London, the Midlands and the north of England.

The project had an initial budget of £55.7bn. Reports suggest this budget has now exceeded £100bn. Mr Sunak is said to have been alarmed by the ballooning costs.

Ministers have refused to say whether the high-speed train line will now go to Manchester as previously promised. A Leeds extension has already been scrapped.

Read more: PM risks 'chaos' if he scraps Manchester HS2, warns Gordon Brown

Read more: HS2 may not go to Manchester because more people are working from home, business secretary hints

Watch Again: Michael Gove joins Andrew Castle

The line may also stop at Old Oak Common in west London rather than going all the way to Euston.

Downing Street has stressed no decisions have yet been made and transport secretary Mark Harper refused to comment on Saturday.

Asked by Andrew if Mr Harper or Mr Sunak would discuss the future of HS2 at the Conservative party conference next week, Mr Gove said: "I know my colleagues are looking closely to see how we can get value for money for every pound that the taxpayer gives us for transport."

The Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Secretary said he could not comment on whether a better east-west line would be more useful than a north-south rail link.

Andrew Castle asks Mark Harper about HS2 changes

"One of the points that I would make is that actually when you’re looking at transport overall you’ve got to look very closely at value for money and it is certainly the case that travelling between and within cities in the north is critically important," he said.

"But what I won’t do is make a judgement of Solomon now, between north-south and east-west. I don’t think it would be right for me to pre-empt the detailed work that is going on to ensure value for money.

"The characteristics that both Mark and Rishi show of taking the right long-term decisions in the national interest are characteristics that people admire, whether in Manchester, Birmingham, Aberdeen or London.

"So of course when we’re making a decision about transport infrastructure, we have to balance the needs of the entire UK, and I hope that people - wherever they live - also recognise that getting value for money is absolutely critical and programmes that have gone over-budget do need to be looked at in order that we get that VFM."

he HS2 High Speed Rail South Portal Construction Site in West Hyde, Hertfordshire.
he HS2 High Speed Rail South Portal Construction Site in West Hyde, Hertfordshire. Picture: Alamy

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has previously expressed concerns over the project, as he told LBC: “We are looking at all the options. But we do need to find a way of delivering infrastructure projects that doesn’t cost taxpayers billions and billions of pounds.”

But three recent former Prime Ministers have warned that cutting HS2 would be short-sighted.

Former Tory PM Boris Johnson said: "This is total Treasury-driven nonsense. It makes no sense at all to deliver a mutilated HS2."

Mr Johnson told The Times: "We need to connect the Midlands with the north with HS2 because that is the way to deliver Northern Powerhouse Rail. And it makes no sense for HS2 to terminate at Old Oak Common rather than Euston."

Workers from HS2
Workers from HS2. Picture: Alamy

Two sources close to Mr Cameron told the outlet that the former PM had privately expressed concerns about the alleged plans.

“It’s unusual for him — he’s tended to stay out of politics ever since he left,” one said.

Meanwhile former Labour PM Gordon Brown has said Mr Sunak risks "confusion and chaos" if he scraps HS2 to Manchester.

Ministers will need to reach a decision about the future of the line in the coming weeks to allow the Office for Budget Responsibility, the fiscal watchdog, enough time to amend forecasts before the autumn statement.