Despite consistent opposition to the High Speed 2 (HS2) railway, the £106bn project was recently given the green-light with construction beginning at the start of September. HS2 represents a substantial investment which during the current COVID-19 crisis is irresponsible at best, and unbridled vanity at worst.
Since March, 9.6m UK workers have been furloughed with mounting uncertainty over the futures of jobs and industries. A new job support scheme is being introduced on the 31st October to support those in ‘viable’ jobs, eligible to employees working 1/3rd of their hours. This means the industries that are still unable to open, who have been hit hardest by the pandemic, will be the ones receiving no financial support on the turn of November. With the prospect of millions facing the crippling uncertainty of not knowing whether they will have a basic income by Christmas, it is counterintuitive that £106bn of public funds are being diverted into a project not expected to be completed until 2036. Instead this money should be protecting vital industries in dire need of support, which would be of greater benefit to the health of the economy.
As the current working climate has shifted rapidly towards online connectedness and video meetings, the need for physical connection between places for future business becomes increasingly unlikely. The aim of HS2 to connect the UK has therefore already become outdated, due to changes brought about by COVID-19. It is hard to escape from the idea that such a project is not needed now, and will not be needed in the future. As the pandemic threatens huge sectors of the UK economy, supporting affected industries and employees is the priority. Investment that contributes to this undoubtedly represents a shrewder use of the public funds which have instead been funnelled into HS2.