£56,000,000,000. Fifty-six billion. With a b. For our US readers, that'd be around $77,000,000,000.
That's how much the new HS2 railway is currently projected to cost. Bearing in mind that it won't come in on that budget, let's take a look at a few little tidbits from the HS2 Corporate Plan...
The problems on our rail network are twofold. Firstly, an overheated network is under increasing and competing demand. Space for passenger services and rail freight will be completely used up if we do not take action.
Secondly, our networks are overwhelmingly London-centric; the need to improve connectivity beyond the capital is stark. Our cities must be connected with each other as well as with London; not just north to south, but east to west.
Nothing wrong so far. The issues identified are clear, reasonable, and accurate. However...
A faster, more reliable, less congested rail network will bring cities and regions closer to markets, whether local, national or international, making them more attractive places for businesses and people to locate.
The UK's future is as a knowledge economy, where technology and talent are the drivers of high-value industries. Businesses succeed when they have ready access to information, services and a skilled workforce. New industries grow when they are linked to sources of financing and innovation.
Here's the problem - if your aims are to help lighten the load on the rail network and prepare the UK for its future based on industries of skilled knowledge-based service delivery, one wonders if high speed rail is the answer.
What if that money was put towards Fibre to the Premises installations or enabling 5G rollout, whilst also focusing on grants and incentives to help businesses move jobs from being office-based to being remote working? Easing conjestion on rail and road by obviating the need for it in the first place.
The problem government faces is similar to one businesses often face - we've a challenge to meet, and a pot of money with which to meet it. However, the best solution is often not the obvious one.
It's that kind of thinking, rooted in finding novel approaches to solving problems, that we love. The radically, dangerously different outcome. The creative solution.
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