GUY ADAMS: Wonder why HS2’s costs keep going up and up? One reason, we can reveal, is an expensive obsession with diversity – and you won’t know whether to laugh or weep
Scrapping the northern leg of HS2 would be a ‘disaster’ for Manchester, according to the city’s Labour mayor Andy Burnham. This week, he went so far as to call the prospect ‘madness’ that would ‘risk the cohesion’ of Britain.
It isn’t all bad news, though. Do a bit of research, and you’ll find evidence that the troubled rail project’s demise could actually be a great relief for lots of vulnerable groups, including Manchester’s vibrant gay, lesbian and transgender community, plus the many prostitutes who ply their trade in Mr Burnham’s city centre.
How do we know this? Well, it’s all laid bare in a quite remarkable official report that was published last year by High Speed Two Ltd, the taxpayer-funded company that is supposed to be building the whole thing.
The document, which runs to no fewer than 145 pages, is described as an ‘Equality Impact Assessment’. It appears to have been commissioned because HS2 bosses were required, by law, to establish whether the construction of a 52-mile stretch of the railway, linking Crewe with Manchester Piccadilly, might somehow upset minority communities.
As an exercise in largely pointless bureaucracy, the whole thing is hard to beat. Over page after torturous page, HS2 tells readers how building a train line might somehow impact people with ‘protected characteristics’.
GUY ADAMS: Wokery has derailed HS2 – wonder why the costs keep going up and up?
We learn, for example, that researchers have found time to racially profile people who live in scores of neighbourhoods that the train line will cross. Some 62 areas have ‘a disproportionate representation of residents of ‘Mixed’ ethnicity’, while 21 have ‘a disproportionate representation of residents of ‘Asian/Asian British’ ethnicity’, and 35 ‘showed a disproportionate representation of residents of ‘Black’ ethnicity’.
On the religious front, 21 areas affected by the infrastructure project contain lots of Muslims, six have large numbers of Jews, and 12 are home to plenty of Hindus.
READ MORE: Rishi Sunak will be guilty of a ‘betrayal of the North’ if he scraps plans to extend the HS2 rail line to Manchester, Boris Johnson warns
Why does this matter? It’s not entirely clear. But racial minorities aren’t the only people facing a sort of discrimination from the project.
Elsewhere, the chin-stroking report worries that an HS2 construction site north of Crewe could ‘give rise to disproportionate and differential effects on pregnant women’ because it would take them longer to drive to the maternity unit at nearby Leighton Hospital.
Meanwhile, the temporary closure of a road near Manchester Airport might discriminate against ‘disabled children’ on the grounds that they often use it to visit a local Adventure Farm.
On and on the turgid document goes, fretting about how building a train line might victimise various special interest groups.
They include everyone from old people (a care home on the route will suffer ‘a noticeable change to views experienced by residents with high susceptibility to changes in the visual environment’) to young mothers who need to breastfeed or visit the loo (a roadside picnic area on the A556 will be demolished), to ethnic-minority families who send kids to a faith school that sits ‘within the land required for the construction of the Proposed Scheme’.
Then there are the aforementioned ‘sex workers’. If HS2 is built, the report notes that they will lose the use of a ‘drop-in centre’ on Fairfield Street near Piccadilly that provides ‘sexual health services’ and a needle exchange.
‘The permanent loss of this facility may give rise to a disproportionate effect for women and a differential effect for women working in the sex industry in Manchester,’ we are told.
DIRECTOR: Judith Hackett boasts of HS2’s ‘inclusive values’
Worse still, building the train line could for some reason apparently be particularly bad news for drug addicts and prostitutes ‘with English as a second language’.
Perhaps the most bizarre, not to mention intellectually incoherent, section of the HS2 report comes towards the end, where a chapter is dedicated to ‘Crime, Safety and Personal Security’.
Here, the authors state that building a high-speed rail line ‘is likely to lead to changes in the streetscape’ which, it is then suggested, could somehow (it doesn’t explain how) impact various minority groups suffering ‘higher than average levels of concern about crime’.
Readers are then bombarded with several stern paragraphs about the impact of ‘hate crimes’, including a lengthy section citing research supposedly showing that ’16 per cent of lesbian, gay and bisexual people and 41 per cent of transgender people have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in the last 12 months’.
In summary, the 145-page report, compiled at the expense of taxpayers, goes to extraordinary and some might argue wholly unnecessary lengths to explain how using HS2 to connect Crewe with central Manchester could ruffle the feathers of a host of people with ‘protected characteristics’.
Keeping these various special-interest groups onside would, readers will doubtless conclude, be very difficult and expensive.
And therein lies the rub. For this odd document’s jargon-filled pages speak volumes for the combination of wokeness, incompetence and bureaucratic inertia that have turned HS2 into perhaps the single most costly disaster in British public-sector history.
The massive infrastructure project was supposed to cost £33 billion when it was unveiled in 2010. That rose to almost £56 billion in 2015. But now it’s on course to chew through an astonishing £180 billion, according to Lord Berkeley, vice chair of an official 2020 review of the project. That equates to more than £6,000 for every household in the land.
Initially supposed to start ferrying passengers in 2026, it will now go into service some time between 2029 and 2033, if we are lucky, though stretches north of Birmingham aren’t expected to open until 2034 and 2041, at the earliest.
A leg connecting the East Midlands with Leeds has been scrapped, while trains that were supposed to carry passengers into Euston station in Central London will now stop at a place called Old Oak Common, a mile north of Acton, in the west of the city — the intended final link into Euston has been ‘paused’.
ACTIVIST: Jen Yockney gave a talk to staff on ‘Bi Visibility Day’
Overseeing this charade has been a succession of grotesquely overpaid executives: current boss Mark Thursdon, who leaves at the end of the month, earned an astonishing £676,000 last year, including a £39,000 bonus, while 140 staffers are currently on six-figure packages.
Their alleged incompetence is among a host of factors blamed for the debacle, including increases in the cost of concrete and other building materials, delays due to Covid, appalling oversight by politicians and civil servants, and endless pushback from Nimby-ish local residents and environmental groups who have spent years lobbying for tracts of the railway to be rerouted underground.
Perhaps the biggest failing of HS2 — and certainly the most unnecessary one — has, however, been cultural.
For as that ‘Equality Impact Assessment’ neatly demonstrates, the people in charge of this taxpayer-funded project have all too frequently seemed to be more interested in social engineering than civil engineering.
‘It’s a mindset in the organisation’, is how Greg Smith MP, a Tory member of the Transport Select Committee, puts it. ‘The biggest problem, which this diversity stuff is a symptom of, is that HS2 is an entirely state-sponsored project. There is no private money at stake. There is no investor putting pressure on people to deliver on time and under budget. Instead, they know the taxpayer will always be there to bail them out.’
To understand how deep-rooted the malaise is, one need only leaf through the various policy documents that have been published in recent years on HS2’s website.
Its 2020 fact sheet on ‘land acquisition’, an endeavour that had by then cost taxpayers about £4 billion, runs to just five pages. A document explaining what would happen to thousands of residents of homes facing the life-changing prospect of compulsory purchase comes in at a mere six pages.
A guide to ‘tunnelling costs’, which have eaten up tens of billions of public money, is a feeble 12 pages.
In contrast, the most recent edition of HS2’s annual report on ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion’ comes in at 52 pages long.
At times, it reads like a sort of parody. We begin with a saccharine introduction by Dame Judith Hackitt, a health-and-safety specialist who is one of HS2’s non-executive directors, a role which last year paid her £23,651 and required her to turn up to a total of 20 meetings
‘A project of HS2’s scale and longevity presents a unique opportunity for change,’ said Hackitt in a press release that accompanied publication. ‘I believe that if we can set an example at HS2 and show the benefits of a diverse, inclusive culture then we’ll lead the way for the rest of the sector.’
In other words, HS2 has become a vehicle for exporting wokery from the public to the private sector.
The report goes on to highlight, in endless detail, various ways HS2 has been working to make the construction industry more politically correct.
This includes racially profiling staff to ensure minorities on its payroll exceed the 18 per cent of residents of England and Wales who claimed to be non-white at the last census.
The company is also documenting the sexuality of staff, with four per cent of workers identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or ‘questioning’. To HS2’s apparent delight, a hefty eight per cent of bosses on the scheme’s Phase 2 are also LGBTQ+.
Equality, Diversity and Inclusion ‘is embedded in everything HS2 does’, the report crows, adding that construction firms that hoover up its vast contracts ‘exceed industry averages’ regarding the diversity of their staff.
Readers learn that HS2 includes ‘an EDI [Equality, Diversity and Inclusion] goal in all staff annual objectives.’
Elsewhere, HS2 has created a ‘gender-neutral menopause policy’ and installed gender-neutral toilets in its various offices.
What the publicly-owned company hasn’t done, of course, is build a railway on time and within budget. But who cares, when as one Whitehall official put it, your taxpayer-funded bosses are allowed to behave like ‘kids with the golden credit card’.
The company has, to this end, been splashing cash on a £40 million HS2 ‘Community Environment Fund’ which has already handed out some £13 million in grants to good causes.
Last year, £67,000 went to the Bengali Workers Association, a charity helping Bengali residents of London’s Camden hold ‘activity sessions’ for over 50s, £28,000 went to the Camden Town Shed, which runs woodwork and pottery classes, and some £32,000 was given to a nature reserve in Buckinghamshire so it could make its paths wheelchair-accessible.
Again, some might argue that its energy — and money — would be better expended trying to build a high-speed railway line.
But with little progress on that front, HS2 is instead banging on about its award-winning ‘Race Ethnicity and Cultural Heritage Network’ of staff members, which has continued to ‘grow its membership at pace’ and is helping the firm celebrate such milestones as ‘Race Equality Week’, ‘South Asian Heritage Month’, ‘National Inclusion Week’, ‘Black History Month’, and ‘National Day of Staff Networks’.
A digger is seen painted with the same colours as the pride flag during Pride in Birmingham in May 2019
Few areas of an employee’s life are untouched by the so-called ‘Equalities, Diversity and Inclusions’ agenda. Not long ago, Maria Grazia Zedda, one of HS2’s full-time EDI managers, announced that HS2 staff should be careful about going to the pub after work in case Muslim colleagues, who don’t drink, feel offended.
Another ‘staff network’, for employees from the LGBTQ+ community, has helped colleagues mark ‘International Transgender Day of Visibility’, ‘International Asexuality Day’, ‘International Drag Day’, ‘Trans Awareness Week’ and a host of other events celebrating sexual minorities.
Cash appears to have been spent sending staff to various Pride parades, where they marched behind rainbow-coloured JCBs.
During Pride month, staff were also offered ‘LGBTQ+ awareness training’ via The Queerbox, a consultancy firm that gives training in ‘how to behave appropriately around LGBTQ+ people’ for £995 a pop, while on ‘Bi Visibility Day’ they were given a talk by Jen Yockney MBE, a blue-haired Liberal Democrat activist who calls herself a ‘bisexual gender queer trans woman’.
During ‘Trans Awareness Week’ last November, the firm invited ‘Stonewall collaborator’ Mia Weston, a ‘transgender queer woman of colour’ to deliver a workshop.
Speaking of Stonewall, HS2 was in 2021 one of the various public institutions that trumpeted its relationship with the organisation, boasting of having ‘moved up 100 places in the latest Stonewall UK Workplace equality index’.
This year, amid mounting controversy over Stonewall’s contested stance on transgender issues, HS2 removed references to the ‘equality index’ from its official reports.
Instead, it became an ‘exemplar organisation’ in a rival scheme run by a private firm called The Clear Company, which has given it a platinum award for having ‘continuously stretched the boundaries of inclusive best practice’.
Whether this helps a railway get built is doubtful, but HS2 declares itself proud of its endless virtue signalling, arguing that much of it is mandated under laws introduced by the Brown-era Labour Party.
‘HS2 takes its responsibilities towards with the Equality Act 2010 seriously. As Europe’s biggest infrastructure project, it’s vital we set high standards to ensure everyone is able to work in a safe and supportive environment,’ says a spokesperson.
Be that as it may, virtue-signalling doesn’t come cheap. Back in January, Freedom of Information requests revealed HS2 had lost 92 working days the previous year to staff diversity training while it had decided to more than double its ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion budget’ from £201,667 to £503,538.
Some might call this money down the drain. But HS2 enjoys a unique position: unlike most companies obsessed with being woke, it cannot actually go broke. Because the people having to pay its bills are . . . you and me.
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