With official ‘mince’ like this, dare we believe anything? – Bill Jamieson

Companies and government seem to be struggling to get to grips with issues involving tens of millions or even billions of pounds, writes Bill Jamieson.

Will the rising estimates for the new HS2 rail link stop at £106 billion? (Picture: Siemens/PA Wire)

Barely a day passes without having to read an official pronouncement twice because the first version proved to be, in popular vernacular, “mince”.

Company financial statements, supposedly overseen by regulation and qualified accountants, are now disturbingly error-prone. This week the consumer electronics retailer Dixons Carphone was left red-faced after admitting that sales fell over the festive period after it initially reported a rise.

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It originally announced that overall sales grew by two per cent over the 10 weeks to January 4, only to reverse this a few hours later to say that sales in fact fell by two per cent.

Then we had an admission from fashion retailer Ted Baker that it had overstated the value of its stock by £58 million – double previous estimates and enough to fill a cluster of giant out of town warehouses. How could you miscalculate stock by such a colossal amount?

Still, such incidents pale before the game of Blind Man’s Darts currently underway over the estimates of the cost of HS2 – the UK’s largest-ever infrastructure project. Back in 2015, the informed estimate was £55 billion. Then in September last year, an internal ‘stock take’ review led by chairman Allan Cook found that spiralling costs could lead to a £30 billion overspend.

Now, according to a government-ordered report led by former project chairman Doug Oakervee, the total spend on the project could hit £106 billion and see years of delays beyond the original deadline.

But still consultants to the project urge that it should go ahead. Stay glued for the next flurry of expert darts. I fear we have not yet seen “peak HS2”.