It’s time for the big HS2 budget show!

HELLO, and welcome to another in our popular series of figure-juggling, in which we put those pesky integers and fractions to the test!

Our guest today is Mr Richard Houghton of HS2 Action Alliance. What do you do at the Alliance, Mr Houghton?

You’re a director? That’s great. Well, I see you’ve brought along some new figures. That’s great too.

So, let’s see what Mr Houghton can do with these figures.

Here are some big public projects whose budgets have overrun. And I see, Mr Houghton, you’ve added up the overruns in percentages for 11 projects.

That’s really great. Now, if you add up these percentages … yes … here are some of the favourites. The Scottish Parliament … HS1 … widening the M25. And here’s Birmingham Library: and that actually underran, yes underran, by about 2 per cent. Well, well. It all goes in the mix.

And if we add up these 11 percentages, which come to 1742.61 per cent, and then divide them by 11 we get an average of 158.42 per cent for each project. Wow.

And you’ve brought along something a little special, I think?

Yes, it’s the budget for HS2! Wow. And you say that’s got a price tag of £28 billion, Mr Houghton?

Oh, just for the demonstration. I see. OK, and now you are multiplying £28 billion by your average public projects overrun of 158.42 per cent, and we get … you should see this on your screens at home now …  we get seventy…two…BILLION…pounds, folks.

That’s a big scary figure, Mr Houghton. £3,000 for every family in the country? Wow.

So that brings us to the big WORKOUT. And here to join us is Carol and her figures. No madam, I said figures. With an ‘s’. You’ve got it.

Thanks, Des. Well, let’s put Mr Houghton’s figures through our weekly workout!

We’ve added up the cost of his eleven projects, which should have been £18,385 billion. But altogether they overran by 15,693 billion. And as a percentage that’s 85.36.

Here hang on, Carol, that’s a long way from 158.42, isn’t it?

Sure is Des, a long way. If you take £28 billion and add our percentage, that comes out as 23.9 billion and gives us a total of 51.9 billion — not 72.3 billion.

Carol, we know figures can’t lie. You can’t both be right. What in tarnation is going on?

Well, Des, it’s easy. Mr Houghton has added up the percentage figures and then averaged them, but some of the projects had big percentage overruns on fairly minor budgets.

Here’s the Scottish Parliament. Should have been £40 million. Came out at £414 million, or 935 per cent over budget. That skews an average percentage calculation big time. It’s really inflated the total percentage-wise, although it’s not a big hitter cash-wise.

Not compared with nearly £10 billion for IT in the National Health Service and its overrun of £6.7 billion. Sure thing, Carol. So what’s the conclusion?

Des, the conclusion is that Mr Houghton has used the figures to make the point he wants to make.

And let’s bear in mind that overruns on public projects in the past is no guide to performance in the future. It’s the link that doesn’t exist. HS2 could turn out like Birmingham Library and come in 2 per cent under budget. Who knows?

Well, Carol, maybe David Higgins does. We’ll wait and see, I guess.

Mr Houghton, good luck with the maths, and thanks for coming on the programme and being such a good sport.

And, folks, always remember, don’t try any of this at home.

Good night!

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