Tom Richmond: HS2 and one-way ticket on fast train to jargon hell is not my cup of tea

An artist's impression of HS2.
An artist's impression of HS2.
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I SUGGEST the first act of Mark Thurston, the newly-recruited £650,000 a year chief executive of HS2, is to hire a team of jargon-busters who can spare Britain’s high speed rail project from ridicule.

Even though Mr Thurston will earn £100,000-a-year less than his predecessor Simon Kirby, the man who presided over route changes that could necessitate the demolition of new housing estates in Mexborough, HS2 chiefs still have money to burn after launching a £280,000 contract to brainwash children about the benefits of the £55.7bn scheme.

I refer to a newly-tendered contract which says “HS2 Ltd is developing its products, services, brand and people and wishes to understand how experiences are developing within a global context”.

The gobbledegook continues: “This includes, mega, macro and micro trends related to accessibility, food/drink consumption and use of amenities within communities, catering, including seating and the digital offering on the train and at stations.”

This is clearer – what would you like to eat or drink in 20 years time if you’re on one of these trains? I bet you hadn’t thought of that one – there’s nothing mega, macro or micro about this particular nugget. Tea – milk, no sugar – for this prospective passenger please.

But the profligacy doesn’t end here: “HS2 Ltd wishes to subscribe to an annual service that can be utilised to deliver (for an initial 12 month period) insights into trends and the future.”

It’s money-for-old-rope if you’re a consultant good at waffling (rather than running trains). As the next clause states: “Where specific trends are identified, where relevant to programme delivery, HS2 would then like to further explore these areas through research work packages included within the overall annual subscription.”

And there could be even more work if you’re good at bamboozling clients: “HS2 requires a supplier to provide conclusive trends and insight information that can be used to help define ongoing research areas as well as its product, services, brand and people.”

Forgive me if I’m wrong, but this is all about paperless tickets – the very point of superfast trains is people won’t have time for five-star haute cuisine.

Even though a HS2 spokeswoman says the contract value is only “a five figure sum”, this is no defence. This organisation already employs 1,400 people, including many of Britain’s highest-paid civil servants.

If no one possesses the necessary qualifications to ensure passengers enjoy – in mumbo-jumbo, marketing-speak – a first class travelling experience, it inspires next to no confidence in their capabilities to get the track, and trains, built on time and on budget.

For the record, I was initially in favour of HS2 – and still remain swayed by the need to build a new railway, not least to provide greater reliability on long-distance services and to free up the existing infrastructure so more services can run at peak periods.

Yet contracts like this make it harder to justify the expense when a high-speed line across the Pennines is long-overdue and when details emerged last weekend of no-frills mini trains – comparable in size to buses – which are so lightweight that they could operate on routes axed by Dr Beeching half a century ago.

How do I know this? It was reported in a national newspaper and is presumably the type of cuttings service that HS2’s new contractor will be expected to provide. Perhaps I should apply for the job. Then again, I wouldn’t want to take you – the long-suffering taxpayer – for a ride.

IF you’re interested in applying for the above role, you have to make contact with one Hannah Cole.

Yet, on telephoning HS2’s head office to ascertain her job title, the switchboard operator says they can’t release such information. Nor can they transfer the call to the necessary department.

I later found out that Ms Cole is assistant procurement manager. Yet, if HS2 Ltd’s switchboard operators can’t transfer phone calls, would you put them in charge of the train set?

LIKE you, I thought the NHS’s finances had become so desperate that I was half expecting an emergency appeal on TV.

Just like HS2, it can also find money for consultants – £1m has been spent on outside advisers on how best to implement cuts here in Yorkshire – and £10,000 for an initiative in the East Riding to “to turn down the noise” about the impact on patients.

Now Leeds-based NHS Digital, tasked with making the most of new technology, is advertising for a director of communications. The job spec says the successful applicant “will lead our integrated communications team of c.50 professionals”.

Is NHS Digital, an offshoot of NHS England, seriously saying that it needs an additional bureaucrat when there is such a shortage of nurses, doctors and carers?

I SEE the UK’s devolved administrations have called for clarity over how Brexit will affect their economies after “disappointing” discussions with the Treasury.

Who is doing so on Yorkshire’s behalf? This region’s most deprived areas receive £100m a year in regeneration funds from the EU. Yet, despite Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson promising to honour these commitments during the EU referendum, his Cabinet colleague David Gauke – the Treasury chief secretary – has declined to do so.

Barnsley MP Dan Jarvis has – to his credit – highlighted the issue. Who else is taking the fight to Ministers?

GIVEN that cash-strapped local authorities can no longer afford to maintain public parks due to funding cuts, and that obesity is compounding the pressures on the NHS, how about part of the public health budget being used for the upkeep of the great outdoors? Proper maintenance, and patrols, means people could walk, or exercise, in safety and become healthier as a result. This ‘win, win’ situation is called joined-up government. Ministers should give it a go one day – it might be one remedy 
that does work.

ONE for George Riley, the BBC’s verbose sports presenter from Leeds who never fails to mangle the English language. What is the difference between a ‘horror show’ and an “absolute horror show”, the phrase that he used on Radio 5 live to describe Arsenal’s Champions League capitulation?

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk