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ALEX BRUMMER: Ease the pile-up of projects like HS2 and 5G


ALEX BRUMMER: From Heathrow and Hinkley to HS2 and 5G… it’s time to ease the project pile-up

A consequence of the long Brexit hiatus is that so many of the biggest decisions to be taken by government ended up in nowhere land.

Now they are arriving at the door of 10 Downing Street in a mad rush.

As part of the Johnson government’s effort to speed up connectivity across the country, it wants to get 5G networks and ultra-fast broadband done.

Anyone who has scanned the headlines will know the fastest way of doing this stuff is to deploy Chinese telecom whizz Huawei Technologies.

On track? Among the other big decisions left hanging include HS2, the high-speed rail link between London and the North, future nuclear development and Heathrow

On track? Among the other big decisions left hanging include HS2, the high-speed rail link between London and the North, future nuclear development and Heathrow

Therein lies the problem. The US is seeking to marginalise Chinese technology on security grounds.

UK security services are none too enthusiastic either. Their view is that using Huawei to build infrastructure is fine, as long as it doesn’t get near the sensitive stuff. That may solve the political problem, as the UK pivots between Washington and Beijing, but may create an engineering problem.

Using multiple contractors creates its own issues – as on Crossrail, where the engineers who built the signalling have struggled to match their software with the advanced trains, and so postponing the start-up until at spring 2021. 

Other big decisions left hanging include HS2, the high-speed rail link between London and the North, future nuclear development and Heathrow.

It looks as if HS2 might survive. It is worth listening to Michael Heseltine. He pressed on with the infrastructure for Canary Wharf in spite of huge opposition inside government. In the process he helped to cement Britain’s place as a world centre of finance.

As the National Audit Office report has found, original costings on HS2 were built on a European model which took no account of UK geography. 

The important thing for the future is to tighten oversight and hold management feet to the fire.

Another outstanding issue is nuclear. Hinkley is under way in spite of a contentious funding model. 

French contractor EDF is shortly to pitch for a new super reactor on the Sizewell site using different financing, similar to the pay-as-you-go interest structure being used on the Thames Tideway.

Finally, there is Heathrow. Given Boris’s threat to lie in front of the bulldozers I suspect no one is holding their breath.

Scam artists

Britain may be the best place for committing white-collar offences.

Investigations by the City regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), take a lifetime.

The FCA is still living with a backlog of cases dating back to the financial crisis of more than a decade ago.

New high profile probes pile up, including those into Neil Woodford’s fund empire and mini-bond firm London Capital & Finance.

The Serious Fraud Office struggles to bring cases to a conclusion. All this at a time when financial scams proliferate.

In the last few days alone, I have been subjected to two prospective scams.

The first to my home phone purporting to be Mastercard. The claim was that someone had sought to make a €600 payment overseas on my card. Could I press ‘1’ on the keypad to go through a series of checks? 

I chose to directly call my Mastercard provider Santander and was told it was the ‘dial 1 scam’ with which the bank was familiar. Why Santander hadn’t chosen to communicate a warning of this to cardholders was not explained.

The second scam came by letter from a purported CTBC Bank in Hong Kong. It was handling the legacy of a John Brummer they thought might be a relative. 

Would I consider making a claim on the $11million estate? If I chose to do so, they would split the inheritance ’50/50′.

As a financial journalist I found both of these approaches suspicious. But I couldn’t but help think that the less knowledgeable victims of such attempted scams might easily be sucked in.

The UK spends up to £1.7billion a year on enforcing regulation and financial justice. Online finance has been a gift to the crooks. 

Banks may regard the scams as a cost of doing business. That is no comfort to the victims and allows enforcers to pretend they are doing their job.

That cannot be acceptable.

Red faces

More egg on face for the FCA. It has been fined £2,000 by the Pensions Regulator for poor governance of the house pension fund over its failure to provide a compliant ‘chair’s statement’.

Whoops!

 

 



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