Builder’s estimate n. A sum of money approximately half the final cost.

Official estimate n. A sum of money that is constantly raised to enable a government to declare that a project is “within budget”. (the 2012 London Olympics was within budget after the budget was quadrupled).

This baleful process is already well under way with the white elephant on wheels that is HS2, the project that should get you to Birmingham more quickly provided you don’t want anywhere in between. The official estimate of £50bn (track and stations only) is already looking slightly Olympic.

It was supposed to include a spanking new Euston station as soon as 2026 but the new official estimate is just before the 12th of Never, in 2033. For good measure HS2 Limited, the company in charge of this boondoggle, has rolled forward the £2.25bn estimate for the station by another £250m, before minor items like compulsory purchase of land and compensation.

In the finest British tradition of infrastructure projects, HS2 ignores Network Rail’s wish list, to expand the existing station for Crossrail 2, the beefed-up successor to the Hackney-Chelsea tube line that never was. Like HS2 itself, Crossrail 2 looks like something nice to put into future Budgets, there to be cut when the next government funding crisis arrives.

Even when these projects actually do get built, we seem to make a right horlicks of them. Who else but the British could build one Eurostar terminal, and then replace it with another, starting out for the south coast by heading north?

It’s my company, so there

It’s hard to avoid a grudging admiration for Mike Ashley. Whether it’s at Newcastle United or running Sports Direct, it’s clear that he couldn’t care what the fans or the shareholders think. A year ago the company told the analysts all about current trading. Last week, despite a so-called “capital markets day” it was just “Everything’s fine, and don’t expect to learn anything new.”

If Mr Ashley was upset by the splendidly-named Ashley Hamilton Claxton, in charge of political correctness at Royal London, there was no sign of it at Wednesday’s annual meeting. Ms Hamilton Claxton may have lost confidence in the board, but the revolting shareholders were as easily seen off as most of SD’s competitors.

Mr Ashley doesn’t bother with dividends, has a hobby of playing with derivatives in the likes of Debenhams, and has shop staff on the dreaded zero-hours contracts. However, he also heads a fantastic business. Had you bought the shares at the nadir of the City’s sulk with him following the flotation in 2007, you would have multiplied your money 20 times.

Doing things his way includes a profit-related incentive scheme that has delivered five-figure bonuses to shop-floor staff. SD’s latest move which caused the fuss, easing the targets for the current scheme,  effectively transfers some of the value from shareholders to employees. Ms Hamilton Claxton  may not be the only one he rubs up the wrong way, but Royal London speaks for 0.18 per cent of the SD equity. Mr Ashley controls 55 per cent. And it’s his own money.

Here’s why they hire professionals

Last February, JP Morgan Cazenove and Numis Securities floated HSS Hire for private equity group Exponent (“we can unlock value and drive growth”) helped by Solid Solutions (“the leading experts in managing retail offers”). The offer, at 210p at share, raised £103m for this plant hire company, before the advisers shared £13.5m in fees.

Today, those buyers must wish they hadn’t. JP Morgan Securities sold 5m shares in March, and in May HSS (“you’re better equipped”) issued a cheerful update reporting trading in line with expectations. Just a month on, the tune had changed, with trading “marginally below” expectations, and the shares took a nasty lurch.

Last month saw another profit warning, accompanied by a promise to focus “exclusively on customer delivery and collection”. Well, that’s a comfort. With the shares now down to 60p each, 70 per cent down in seven months, the bemused holders might have expected any competent management of a plant hire business to have focused on little else.

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