The wrong side of the tracks: Lobbyists for HS2 rail line funded by the taxpayer

Campaigners against the expensive project accuse the coalition of 'underhand misuse' of money

The Government has been accused of "resorting to the underhand misuse of taxpayer money" to pay for lobbyists to promote HS2, as pressure mounts on the coalition to scrap the £42.6bn rail project.

Leading politicians have lined up in recent days to criticise the growing cost estimates for a railway that will reduce the journey time from London to Birmingham to 49 minutes and create more than 100,000 jobs. Most prominently, the former transport secretary and chancellor Alistair Darling has described the project as a potential "nightmare", having supported HS2 when he was in office.

Critics are now scrutinising the Department for Transport's use of a lobbying firm, Westbourne Communications, to help to promote a railway that would eventually have 330 miles of track but has divided the public. HS2 Ltd, the body set up to steer the project, spent more than £80,000 on using Westbourne to July, while the DfT paid the London-based firm a further £24,000.

There are also two Westbourne staff on secondment to HS2 Ltd, who, according to rail minister Simon Burns in a recent parliamentary answer, are "specifically working on the promotion of HS2". So far, taxpayers have spent £84,480 on these two staff.

Campaigners against HS2 argue that this has stacked the argument against them financially. The news also comes after David Cameron watered down his tough rhetoric against the lobbying industry with a Bill that critics have dismissed as "a dog's breakfast".

Hilary Wharf, director at HS2 Action Alliance, told The Independent on Sunday: "I think this is appalling. The Government is resorting to underhand misuse of taxpayer money to push through this programme. This shows the weakness of their argument and discredits their position. David Cameron and George Osborne will soon be the last two men left standing in support of HS2."

Buried in a highly critical Institute of Economic Affairs report last week, which claimed HS2's cost could eventually soar to £80bn, is a scathing assessment of the use of Westbourne and film-maker Tomboy Films. The latter was paid £86,000 to produce two short information videos.

The report said: "A significant proportion of HS2-related lobbying appears to be state-funded, raising important questions about government effectively using taxpayers' money to lobby itself."

Questions have been raised over the possibility of a conflict of interest at Westbourne. The firm also advises Birmingham airport on its expansion proposals, which would link up with HS2 in what has been described as "an integrated transport hub for the Midlands providing high-speed domestic and long-haul international connectivity".

A source close to HS2 said that a distance between the two clients was maintained as Westbourne worked directly for the airport but put staff on secondment for HS2. Ms Wharf argued that "Chinese walls are very difficult to maintain at a lobbying business".

Before being hired by the DfT, Westbourne ran an independent campaign to drum up support for HS2 between February 2011 and January 2012, which included its own battle bus.

The protest groups themselves have been accused of using taxpayers' money to fund their campaigns. The 51M coalition of councils has spent more than £1m of taxpayers' money to fight the Government's plans, while Buckinghamshire Council has handed HS2 Action Alliance £10,000 towards the group's Supreme Court appeal against HS2 this coming October.

A pro-HS2 source argued: "The City millionaires, aristocrats and tax-funded shire councils of the anti-HS2 campaign have spent millions on PR, QCs and lobbying to undermine a project that was a manifesto commitment of all the major parties. It really takes the biscuit when they complain about efforts to mobilise the country behind a project of national economic significance."

However, Ms Wharf insisted that all other contributions had come in private donations of £5 and £10 a time. "I would have loved to have had one or two wealthy benefactors, but it hasn't turned out that way," she said.

Westbourne director James Bethell said: "Clear communication is an essential responsibility of modern major infrastructure programmes like HS2 to ensure the project reaches its potential. Westbourne is proud of our communications advice which we have provided in a cost-effective, transparent manner and meeting relevant government guidelines."

An HS2 spokesman said: "We are putting in place a long-term communication strategy to publicise the benefits of what will be the single biggest infrastructure project the UK has undertaken in decades. HS2 Ltd does not lobby government. We are governed by clear rules and our communications programme has been subject to the scrutiny of, and approval by, the Cabinet Office. Furthermore, our staff, including those on secondment from other organisations, are bound by strict confidentiality agreements. All HS2 Ltd expenditure is reported to Parliament."

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
News
i100
Life and Style
tech

Apple agrees deal with Visa on contactless payments

Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Technical Software Consultant (Excel, VBA, SQL, JAVA, Oracle)

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: You will not be expected to hav...

Technical Sales Manager

£45000 - £53000 Per Annum plus bonus plus package: The Green Recruitment Compa...

Humanities Teacher

£110 - £135 per day + Competitive Rates: Randstad Education Maidstone: Outstan...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor