We already knew that Margaret Hodge, chair of the UK government’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC), had some strong views on UK infrastructure.
It was Hodge, a Labour politician who assumed her role at PAC in June 2010, who famously put the boot into the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) procurement method. Among other condemnatory outbursts, she described PFI as a “rotten deal” and “appallingly poor value for money”.
Now, Hodge has her sights set on the planned £32 billion (€37.7 billion; $48.5 billion) High Speed Two (HS2) rail project, the first phase of which – connecting London and Birmingham – is expected to begin construction in 2017.
Aside from a wrangle that has broken out over the proposed compensation scheme for affected home-owners along the route, the PAC has identified its own cause for concern in the shape of an alleged £3.3 billion funding shortfall which, in its view, is unaccounted for.
In this case, Hodge’s choice of words is interesting. As well as describing the government’s business case in quite conventional terms as “clearly not up to scratch”, she also went to say that it was at times “farcical”.
Infrastructure Investor was prompted to remind itself of a definiton of “farcical” which is, of course: “A light dramatic work in which highly improbable plot situations, exaggerated characters, and often slapstick elements are used for humorous effect” (source: thefreedictionary.com).
To us, this appears to ratchet up the criticism to a whole new level. A failure to live up to expectation is one thing, but when you’re accused of being so bad at something that it’s akin to slapstick – that’s another matter entirely.