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I now write on law and regulation facing the pensions sector for Professional Pensions and this portfolio will no longer be updated. Please read all my new articles on the Professional Pensions website.

High Speed 2: Full speed ahead or not?

High Speed 2 is not worth the money in this time of austerity

High Speed 1 has not proved the case for High Speed 2 • Photograph: Victoria Kettlewell

You can’t tell me that the financial world isn’t deteriorating and hasn’t been for a while; in fact, this was one of the first points raised by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition upon their formation in May 2010.

As such, they dedicated themselves to a widespread downscaling of planned projects, reducing public services and cutting back on the welfare state. What seems to have been overlooked is those non-necessities that are continuing to go ahead despite the financial climate – the 2012 Olympics, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the HS2 rail-link.

I’m not anarchic – I fully support the traditional institution that is the monarchy as one that holds great history and heritage for the UK, but the celebration of sixty years in power out of taxpayer’s money is not necessary – it’s basically a birthday party I’m not invited to.

The Olympics on the other hand, fairly, are difficult to avoid having been promised them when financial trouble was at the bottom of Parliamentary agenda – now that we have them, it would be a shame to back out now, or provide a non-spectacular ceremony – all that we’ll have is widespread disruption due to a nation expressing its dissatisfaction with the situation, right as they’re happening instead. And there’s no problem with protesting – although those leading the ‘war against terror’ might disagree.

On the contrary, the High Speed rail-link proposed and approved by the Government is one that could easily be avoided, and one that is not necessary. One that is costing the taxpayers billions for something that only benefits the minority. So it cuts down travel times between Birmingham and London by nearly a half? What difference does that make for the poor commuters down in the far-southern-west in Dorset, or the northest-of-the-north in Scotland? In fact, what difference does it make for me in Kent? Am I paying for something that does not really benefit me at all? Apparently so.

In fact, when the first High Speed rail was introduced in Kent, it made little difference to me. Okay, so I might use it every now and then to get London? To be honest, I would quite happily leave earlier to get a slower train and the tube with a travelcard (which is actually cheaper than High Speed by itself). In fact, in most cases, the National Rail website actually recommends the slower option to me.

Besides, the existing rail services are poor in all aspects – the trains are often dirty, packed and uninformative. They are late, easily cancelled and understaffed. The ticket prices are extortionate and rising year on year with little effect on existing services. The introduction of the High Speed train had a negative impact on the existing trains, extending their journey times and causing some trains to stop at some stations at longer intervals. Trains that called every half hour at some stations, such as Newington or Teynham, now call once an hour. Yet, the cheek of it is that those who use that service are expected to pay the same rates as those who can get on any train to their destination, where four call an hour.

So what effect will a project where phase 1 isn’t even complete until 2026 have on the UK? It will help those much wealthier commuters get to their locations a lot quicker, or earlier – it will mean they can spend more time at their desk getting money for themselves – money that they might put in the UK’s pocket (if they’re nice). And anyway, that’s just for the people between Birmingham and London really. More trains that need better servicing will be neglected (Northern Rail comes to mind) and passengers who do not have the option to travel via the new High Speed service will be faced with raised prices and unsatisfactory train journeys on trains where people are packed like sardines due to a cut in regularity of their original slower services.

But wait! One more point. Aren’t the UK supposed to be saving money and cutting spending to try and recover our deficit, or have the Government selectively forgotten about that? I can assure you that the people haven’t. There’ll be cries for that thirty two point seven billion pounds back soon. And quite right those cries will be.

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