HS2 has been a controversial topic for some time now. Between the disruption it would cause to countless neighbourhoods and the protests that have emerged and the debate about the cost effectiveness of the project, it’s been in the news a fair amount. The transport network in the UK needs improving, not only for businesses located here, but also to encourage more investment into the country. HS2 is one of the solutions offered.
The latest estimate for the cost of HS2 is over £40 billion. However, many suggest that the benefits HS2 will bring do not cover the full costs. Furthermore, as noted above, other concerns include the disruption that it will bring to countless households who will be living along the proposed routes. Cost benefit analysis have been carried out to determine the viability of the project, but they are invariably difficult to do. As they involve determining all of the private and social costs and benefits and putting a monetary estimate onto them, there will inevitably be factors that are over-looked, under-estimated or over-estimated. The suggestions here are that the costs have been under-estimated and the benefits over-estimated.
In September, KPMG produced a report that estimated the overall benefit to the UK economy would be a boost to growth of 0.8%, which would benefit many businesses and communities. The British Chambers of Commerce said:
Business communities in dozens of cities and towns, from many parts of the UK, remain strongly supportive of HS2.
The railway network is also approaching full capacity and this is one of the reasons why HS2 has been proposed. A government source said:
We need to do something because our railways are nearly full, but the alternative to HS2 is a patch and mend job that would cause 14 years of gridlock, hellish journeys and rail replacement buses … The three main routes to the north would be crippled and the economy would be damaged.
However, this report has faced criticism, in particular because it ignored a variety of supply-side constraints and because they argue it would be more effective to simply update the existing network. However, a new government-commissioned report has suggested that this alternative to HS2 would involve 14 years of weekend route closures and much longer journey times. However, those in favour of updating existing routes have said that this new report commissioned by the government is ‘a complete fabrication’. Hilary Wharf of the HS2 Action Alliance commented:
This government-funded report is a complete fabrication. The main alternative to HS2 involves longer trains and reduced first-class capacity to provide more standard class seats…No work is required at Euston to deliver the necessary capacity increase. Work is only required at three locations on the WCML [West Coast Main Line], and this is comparable to the work being carried out on the route at present.
The debate regarding HS2 will continue for the time being and it is just another area that is fuelling the political playing field. Whatever is done, the rail network certainly requires investment, whether it is through HS2 or upgrades to the existing routes. The following reports and articles consider the latest developments and controversy regarding HS2.
HS2 Cost and Risk model Report: A report to Government by HS2 ltd HS2 Ltd March 2012
High Speed 2 (HS2) Limited: HS2 Regional Economic Impacts KPMG September 2013
Draft Environmental Statement: Phase One: Engine for Growth HS2 May 2013
Updated Economic Case for HS2 HS2 August 2012
HS2 alternative ‘would mean years of rail disruption’ BBC News (28/10/13)
Alternative to HS2 would see Britain suffer 14 years of rail misery, says Coalition Independent, Nigel Morris (28/10/13)
HS2 alternatives could require 14 years of weekend rail closures The Guardian, Rajeev Syal (28/10/13)
Passengers ‘face 14 years of chaos if HS2 is derailed’: ‘Unattractive’ package of closures would be needed to expand capacity if Labour withdraws support Mail Online, Jason Groves (28/10/13)
HS2: Labour to examine cheaper rival plan The Telegraph, Tim Ross and Andrew Gilligan (27/10/13)
Britain’s railways have become mere outposts of other nations’ empires The Guardian, John Harris (28/10/13)
’Years of delays’ if government backs down on HS2 rail project Financial Times, Kiran Stacey and Brian Gloom (28/10/13)
- What is a cost-benefit analysis? Explain the steps that are involved in any cost-benefit analysis.
- Conduct a cost-benefit analysis for HS2. Ensure that you differentiate between costs and benefits and between private and social concepts.
- How can we measure the costs and benefits of HS2?
- Explain how HS2 is expected to boost economic growth. Use the AD/AS model to illustrate this.
- To what extent is there likely to be a multiplier effect from HS2? Is it likely to benefit the whole economy or just those areas where the route lies?
- Conduct a cost-benefit analysis for the alternative suggestion. Which do you think is likely to be more feasible? Explain your answer.
- How will improvements to the rail network or the investment of HS2 benefit businesses in the UK economy?
Increasing traffic on the roads is observable by everyone and government policy is focused on reducing the demand for road space, rather than increasing its supply. One method has been to improve public transport and make it a viable substitute for car travel. Private costs of motoring have increased, but if there is no viable alternative, people will continue to demand car travel. Investment in buses and trains has improved their quality: they are more frequent, more reliable, arguably more comfortable and supposed to be part of an integrated transport policy. Local bus services provide a crucial link for local communities, but it is these services that are now facing problems.
In your economics lectures, you may have looked at local bus services, when you considered monopolies, oligopolies and possibly contestable markets. Oligopolies, whilst closer to the monopoly end of the market spectrum can be very competitive, but are also open to collusion and anti-competitive practices. The local bus sector has been referred to the Competition Commission by the Office of Fair Trading through complaints of ‘predatory tactics’ by companies. It is argued that local bus services, by limiting competition, are causing prices to rise and the quality of service to fall. One key issue is that those companies established in the market are alleged to be acting aggressively towards smaller bus companies and thus reducing competition in the industry. A low number of bids for supported service contracts in many areas, local bus routes dominated by a few large companies and predatory actions by incumbent firms are all complaints that this industry is facing.
This investigation is especially important, given the amount of public money that goes into the bus industry: £1.2bn. Investigations found that in areas of limited competition, prices were 9p higher. A number of take-overs have contributed to this situation. Two-thirds of bus services are controlled by only five operators. This limits competition in the market and hence is argued to be against public interest. Yet, industry representatives still argue that the market is competitive. Read the following articles and answer the questions about this issue. Was the OFT right to to initiate this investigation?
Local buses to be re-regulated BBC News (27/9/09)
OFT refers UK bus market to Competition Commission Dow Jones Newswires, Kaveri Nihthyananthan (7/1/10)
Office of Fair Trading prompts probe into bus services Guardian (7/1/10)
Trasport groups fear OFT competition probe over buses Telegraph, Alistair Osborne (4/1/10)
Bus industry competition queried BBC News (20/8/09)
OFT refers bus industry on poor service and prices Times Online, Francesca Steele (7/1/10)
Inquiry into local bus market ‘may delay investment’ Scotsman, Hamish Rutherford (5/1/10)
- Why are local bus services argued to be (a) a monopoly; (b) an oligopoly?
- What are the main aspects of UK competition policy?
- What is a concentration ratio and how does this apply to the bus industry?
- What predatory tactics are being used in the local bus industry and how do they affect competition, prices and quality?
- Why may limited competition be against the public interest?
- Traffic congestion is a major problem. Explain the economic theory behind government intervention in this area. Think about the effects of taxes; building more roads; investment in substitutes. Which is likely to be the most effective method?
No-one in the UK can have failed to notice the seemingly never-ending torrent of wind and rain that has swept the country over the past couple of weeks. At the moment, there are 19 flood warnings in the UK and a further 58 areas are on flood watch, according to the Environmental Agency. Cockermouth in Cumbria has been the worse hit, with 12.4 inches of rain falling in just 24 hours, 6 bridges collapsing and over 200 people being rescued by emergency services, some having to break through their roof to get out. Thousands of people have been evacuated; PC Bill Barker lost his life trying to save others; and fears remain for a 21-year old women, who was washed away from a bridge. This has led to a safety review of all 1800 bridges in Cumbria.
Thousands of people have lost their homes and belongings and over 1000 claims to insurance companies have already been made. Flood victims are facing rapidly rising costs, as insurance premiums increase to cover the costs of flooding and this has led to these houses becoming increasingly difficult to sell. Some home-owners are even being forced to pay mandatory flood insurance. Without this in place, insurance companies are not willing to insure homeowners in some areas, or the premiums they’re charging are simply unaffordable. After all, if one household in an area hit by flooding claims for flood damage, the probability of all other houses in that area also claiming is pretty high, if not an almost certainty.
Care packages are arriving for those hit by the floods, as food is starting to run out, and estimates of the costs of flooding have already reached ‘tens of millions of pounds’. Gordon Brown has pledged £1 million to help the affected areas, but who knows where this money will come from; Barclays has also pledged help for the small businesses affected.
An independent inquiry needs to be launched into the causes of this flooding and whether better flood protection should have been in place. However, the extent of the flooding experienced is argued to only happen every 300 years, so is the cost of flood protection really worth the benefits it will bring? A number of issues have arisen from this freak weather, and some are considered in the articles below.
Residents returning to Cockermouth after flooding (including video) BBC News (23/11/09)
Insurers will be hit by £100 million flood bill City AM, Lora Coventry (23/11/09)
£100 million bill after Cumbria floods nightmare Metro, Kirststeen Patterson (23/11/09)
Floods claim in Cumbria could and Scotland could top £100 million (including video) BBC news (22/11/09)
Riverside residents, others may be forced to buy mandatory flood insurance The Times, Illinois, Steve Stout (21/11/09)
Funds for flooding victims set up BBC News (22/11/09)
Flood victims suffer as insurance costs rise Guardian, Jamie Elliott (8/11/09)
1 in 6 house insurance customers at risk of flooding UIA (20/11/09)
Papers focus on flood shortages BBC News (23/11/09)
- Why are insurance premiums high for flood protection and how will this affect house sales in the affected areas?
- Are the risks of flooding independent?
- Apart from those living in the areas hit by floods, who else will suffer from the flooding and how?
- The flooding experienced is said to be a phenomenon experienced every 300 years. Should better flood defences be put into place to stop the same thing happening in the future or should we use the necessary money elsewhere?
- What are the private and external costs and benefits of increased flood defences? What would a cost–benefit analysis need to establish in order for a decision to be made over whether more defences should be put in place?
- Millions of pounds will be needed to repair the damage caused by the flooding. Where will this money come from? Think about the opportunity cost.
- What do you think will be the likely impact on environmental policy and how will this affect you?
The traditional macroeconomic issues are well-known: unemployment, inflation, economic growth and the balance of payments. However, the environment, and specifically climate change, have become increasingly important objectives for the global economy. Over recent months, many countries have announced new policies and measures to tackle climate change.
The costs of not tackling climate change are well-documented, but what about the costs of actually tackling it? Why is a changing climate receiving such attention and what are the economics behind this problem? The articles below consider this important issue.
Tougher climate target unveiled BBC News (16/10/08)
Brown proposes £60 billion climate fund BBC News (26/6/09)
EU says tackling climate change will cost global economy €400 billion a year Irish Times, Frank McDonald (26/6/09)
Obama makes 11th-hour climate change push Washington AFP, Ammenaul Parisse (25/6/09)
UK to outline emission cut plans BBC News (26/6/09)
What’s new in the EU: EU examines impact of climate change on jobs The Jerusalem Post, Ari Syrquin (25/6/09)
Climate change: reducing risks and costs The Chronicle Herald, Jennifer Graham (25/6/09)
Obama to regulate ‘pollutant’ CO2 BBC News (17/4/09)
Billions face climate change risk BBC News (6/5/07)
Obama vows investment in science BBC News (27/4/09)
Japan sets ‘weak’ climate target BBC News (10/6/09)
- Why is climate change an example of market failure?
- Apart from imposing limits on emissions, what other interventionist policies could be used? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each of them?
- According to the EU, the cost of tackling climate change is very high. So, why are we doing it? See if you can carry out a cost-benefit analysis!
- Why is climate change presenting a problem for insurance companies? Can it be overcome?
- Why is finance such an issue between developed and developing countries in relation to tackling climate change?
- What is the likely impact of climate changing policies on the labour market? Will we be able to adapt in the current economic crisis?
EU leaders at a Brussels summit have agreed a plan to cut emissions. This will involve the 27 EU countries cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020 compared with 1990 levels. The aim is also to try to raise renewable energy sources to 20% of total energy use. The package has become known as the 20/20/20 package, but scientists have already argued that these measures may not be sufficient to prevent serious climate change.
Fiddling with words as the world melts The Economist (18/12/08)
Climate deal is far too little too late Guardian (15/12/08)
EU leaders claim historic agreement on cutting pollution Guardian (13/12/08)
Climate change: EU leaders reach compromise deal on emissions Guardian (12/12/08)
World needs ‘climate revolution’ BBC News Online (11/12/08)
EU climate package explained BBC News Online (5/12/08)
EU leaders reach new climate deal BBC News Online (12/12/08)
- Identify two external costs that result from climate change.
- Using diagrams as appropriate, illustrate the impact of the EU climate change deal on the market for electricity.
- Discuss the extent to which the EU climate change deal will lead to an increase in the supply of renewable energy sources. How quickly are these changes in supply likely to take effect?
- Examine two other policies that national governments could implement to reduce carbon emissions.