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Matt Sinclair: Phillip Hammond is undermining the Government's credibility on transparency

I understand that Phillip Hammond wants to make the case for high speed rail.  We disagree but we can have an honest debate about the issues.  It is really important that the Government don't misuse their position though, and release statistics in a way that precludes a proper debate.

Philip-Hammond20110208 There have been two claims released this week.  The first, in the Daily Telegraph, was that high speed rail will create 40,000 jobs.  The second, in the FT, was that the extra noise would only affect 10 properties.  In both cases the newspaper reports that the figures will be released in a report next week.  It is pretty clear what the Department are up to.  They are hoping that those figures can be established in the commentariat's mind as unalloyed facts before the critics are able to scrutinise whether or not they are credible.  By next week, the debate may have moved on.

Of course we're all trying to promote our views.  But that kind of behaviour, exploiting the unique position of a Government Department, is out of line.  In my view, it contradicts the Code of Practice for Official Statistics and other Ministers - Labour and Conservative - have been reprimanded for less.  More than that, it undermines all the hard work that others are doing to establish that this Government really do believe in transparency, not just when it is convenient.  I wish I didn't have to write a complaining blog today when Eric Pickles, for example, is doing such excellent work making local government accountable to local people (instead of Whitehall quangocrats).

It remains our view that high speed rail is extremely poor value for so much money.  With higher taxes on the poorest families through VAT; military projects like the Nimrod being junked; and pressure on so many other budgets, over £30 billion for a marginal improvement in an already fast railway line just can't be justified.  We've been having an extended debate about that with the lobby for the line - Greengauge 21.  The latest installment on our website is here and there is more to come.  That jobs figure, in particular, looks very dubious to me.


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