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The Carillion debacle puts the spotlight on a British disease

19 January, 2018

Landlord Craig Douglas and his wife Karen. The Bree Louise pub in Euston is due to be shut down by HS2

EVEN the highest paid HS2 executive would surely wobble at Craig Douglas’s passionate speech about his beloved Bree Louise and the damage this hated project is wreaking in west Euston.

The award-winning, thriving pub, also his family home, will soon be reduced to dust. His street, where his son walked to school, obliterated.

Financial restitution will, eventually, be paid to Mr Douglas, no doubt after a drawn-out legal proceeding.

As he suggests, others will be worse off than him – particularly the traders in Drummond Street, who will have to run their restaurants in a dead end street and, in the shadow of one of Europe’s biggest construction sites, for the best part of the next 20 years. Those traders are not getting a penny. But it is one-dimensional to simply weigh what is going on right now in compensation levels.

Family. History. Business. Health. Education. The basic facets of a functioning neighbourhood are being challenged. The impact of HS2 around Drummond Street and Euston amounts to a kind of social genocide.

The Bree Louise is not the first. The Calumet photographic centre, the headquarters of the Magic Circle, UCL buildings, the Ibis and Thistle hotels, St James Gardens and now Euston Square Gardens have been fenced off. Cardington Street has closed for good. Trees are coming down, graves are being dug up. Already the area has a haunting aspect. Build­ings are boarded-up, vacated. Soon it will be a ghost town.

The HS2 project is almost eight years in the making already, and people have had a chance to mentally prepare for the wrench.

But it is little wonder that flashes of protest emerged this week. The tree-chaining protest was symbolic of anger and powerlessness to prevent what now appears inevitable.

Who are the winners here?

Companies like Carillion, or more specifically their directors and shareholders, which held contracts to build the railway in Buckingham­shire.

The Carillion debacle highlights Britain’s disease – a combination of gross under­investment in manufacturing since the 1970s, a distaste by New Labour and the Conservatives for public sector investment, a love-in with private corporations, all of which has produced a disenchantment and contempt for politicians with the public and a dangerous gulf between the government and the governed. Private companies shouldn’t run public bodies because, understandably, they will cut staffing levels and other overheads to maximise returns to meet high executive salaries and high dividends for shareholders. Public bodies are not angelic; they simply operate on a different economic basis and need a lower profit margin for growth. Fortunately, this is now being seen by the public. Let’s hope it’s time up for the private “outsourcers”!

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