Two of Scotland’s leading entrepreneurs have lambasted the UK Government for what they see as its mishandling of HS2. Speaking on the Go Radio Business Show with Hunter & Haughey, following revelations Prime Minister Rishi Sunak plans to scrap the northern leg of the high-speed rail project, Lord Willie Haughey said: “The UK Government is getting it from all angles in relation to the retrenching on the HS2 and whether this could have an impact on Scotland and the big question of connecting us to the south of the UK.”

It has been widely reported the PM and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt have been considering proposals to make major cutbacks in talks codenamed Project Redwood.

One cost estimate suggests the Government has already spent £2.3 billion on the second stage of the high-speed railway from Birmingham to Manchester, yet shelving the northern phase would save up to £34bn.

Sir Tom Hunter commented: “I’ve said before HS2 was an analogue answer in a digital world. It started off with a budget of £70 billion but that budget is now actually closer to £100 bn. 

“I actually know of a couple of people in England, very wealthy people – well, they are very wealthy now – who for the past four years have been flat out selling everything they can into HS2. They say it’s the best contract they have ever had. Nobody holds them to account. They just keep delivering the stuff and getting paid. So there’s mismanagement here.”

Sir Tom told his radio show co-host: “You and I both know we wouldn’t put government in charge of a sweetie shop. Consider the litany of disasters here in Scotland: the trams, the Parliament . . . and don’t mention the ferries!

“I don’t think HS2 will ever get to Scotland and there are so many other things you could spend billions of pounds on that would actually really help.”

Lord Haughey reiterated his personal belief that allocating infrastructure funding to regional bodies to do their best for levelling up would be more beneficial and financially prudent than creating enormous projects that are centrally controlled.

“Why not dispense the money locally, regionally, and let them make decisions?” he asked. “Making these huge infrastructure decisions has now been proven beyond doubt not to be the best thing for anybody who is trying to level up.”

The Scottish Inter-City Rail Taskforce, set up by the High Speed Rail Group, meanwhile, has noted HS2 delays could be hampering Scotland’s carbon reduction and negatively impacting potential economic growth. 

It noted Scotland has been particularly affected by the Department for Transport’s decision to scrap the Golborne link, part of the HS2 Crewe to Manchester scheme that would have seen trains taken off the main route before Manchester and connected to the West Coast Main Line to continue their journey to Glasgow. The aim had been to improve connectivity and journey times to Scotland and allow greater capacity for freight.

Sir Tom pointed out the irony was the decisions were being made by the Conservatives, who traditionally had been viewed as the party with the best understanding of business matters.

“They simply cannot deliver this,” he said. “It defies all common sense. It was a flawed project from the beginning and, yes, right now it’s proven to be so. So, once again, it is the UK taxpayer who is picking up the bill and nobody is being held accountable. I hate it!” 

Lord Haughey concluded: “This is a point we make every week on the Business Show: that politics should simply get out the way of business. This was a political decision. It turns out to be another huge infrastructure project that is now doomed to fail. 

“When are politicians going to learn to keep out of the way and just put money in the right places with people who know where to spend it best?”