'Duplicitous' - HS2 review panel member accuses No 10 of spinning press reports on the scheme

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A senior economist who was a member of the review panel into HS2 has slammed the Government’s failure to release the report into the project and said the finished document is favourable to the scheme.

Andrew Sentance, who was part of the panel which wrote the Oakervee Review into HS2, as well as being a senior economist and member of the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee, accused the Government of being “duplicitous” over calling the review received from Doug Oakervee a review.

Andrew Sentance. Photo: JPI Media

Andrew Sentance. Photo: JPI Media

And he said press reports on the HS2 project had been “spun by No 10 as being very unfavourable”.

In a significant intervention, Mr Sentance told The Yorkshire Post: “The Government has sat on [the Oakervee Review] for three months.

“We had two-and-a-half months to do the report and the Government has sat on it for three months which seems to me a bit of travesty. They obviously don't like the conclusions."

The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said today he would not comment on leaks, after the Financial Times reported that the Oakervee Review would up the cost of HS2 to £106bn.

"The Government commissioned the Oakervee review to provide advice on whether and how to proceed with HS2,” he said.

"A draft of the Oakervee review was delivered shortly before Christmas. We are committed to publishing the findings of the review to Parliament.

"That remains the case, I am not going to pre-empt its publication."

But Mr Sentance said: “The most duplicitous thing that has been said, and the Chair of the review has objected to this, is that somehow this is a draft. You will see comments in the press from the Government to say this is a draft, it is not a draft.

“We completed the review, we are waiting for it to be published.”

Mr Sentance said the “spin on [the press reports] is very negative” and said he put this down to Andrew Gilligan, Boris Johnson's transport adviser and a former Sunday Times and BBC journalist, who is known to be against the scheme.

He said: "I think it has been blocked because Number 10 just don't want this in the public domain at the moment.

“The press reports in the FT have been spun by Number 10, in my opinion, as being very unfavourable.

“The general view of the review team is that we actually wanted HS2 to happen, we wanted it to happen subject to various conditions, which show the value for money, and a review of the second phase. That is not the way it has come out in the press.

"The actual report if it was published would read more favourably towards HS2, what has happened is that Number 10 has done this because they are not publishing a report they have already received in order to give their own narrative.

"There are people in the North and Midlands who might support more investment and might think something alternative can happen. Based on the realpolitik of what happens in the UK I don't think that will be what happens."

A No 10 spokesman said: “The PM has always been clear that he wants to level up access for everyone to opportunity and prosperity by investing in infrastructure across the whole UK and particularly in the North.”

Mr Sentance said due to worries over leaks, the access to the final report for members of the review panel was “limited” and he only saw the final copy when a civil servant brought it to his house and showed him, before he was asked to destroy anything to do with the review.

He said: "It was not a review that I thought was very well conducted."

"Everyone was concerned that the cost was escalating but I came to the view that honestly, if you are going to build a major railway into the middle of the country that serves the Midlands and the North, this is what it is going to cost."

But he said the cost only represented around 0.4 per cent of GDP during the time it is being built, and that much more was spent on the Victorian railways.

He also dismissed the idea the money would be spent elsewhere, and said: “I have seen many commentators today saying it could be cancelled and the money spent elsewhere in the North.

“I am afraid this is wrong. There is little hope that cancelling HS2 will lead to the money being spent in the North. It will be spent elsewhere.”

He added: "This is a big test of the Boris Johnson government's commitment to the North of England. If they are really committed to the North of England then the costs need to be managed but they should build HS2 and they should build out the whole project, not just to Birmingham but to Leeds and Manchester.

"If they don't I think it will be an indication that they are not committed to the North of England."

Mr Johnson has repeatedly committed to levelling up the regions of the UK, especially the North, and the Conservative manifesto pledged to start work on Northern Powerhouse Rail, connecting the cities of the North.