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Better than a faster train?

By David Robinson

The first Liverpool – Manchester Railway

I’m no expert on high speed trains but it was interesting to read the discussion on HS2 in the weekend papers and note that the debate seems to hinge almost entirely on the economic desirability of an investment that returns £2.30 for every pound spent. Apparently Ed Miliband’s support is conditional upon a cost reduction that would push the return closer to, perhaps beyond, the £2.50 originally promised.

If this is to be the basis of the judgement he and the PM should know also that every pound invested in helping struggling children improve their reading yields £11. Community-based models of adult social care can save £6 for every £1 invested. The Family Nurse Partnership with young single mums returns between £3 and £5 for every £1 spent.

Treasury grey beards will worry that these figures are based on relatively small programmes and limited evidence but we could put that right with a fraction of the £350m that has been spent on research and development for HS2.

Major construction projects aren’t the only way of investing now to save in the future and £42bn is an awfully big investment. Tax payers are entitled to expect a value for money judgement that considers all the options.

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