Neymar, HS2 and West Berkshire Council

Like a lot of other people I’ve been goggle-eyed at the sums of money involved in Neymar‘s proposed transfer from Barcelona to PSG. Enough remarks have already been made about how absurd, even obscene, this is and how he can’t possibly be worth £198m. Well, of course, if someone’s prepared to pay it then he is worth it. The people who run PSG are presumably not total idiots although it does seem that they’re gambling a lot on trying to redress France’s pathetic record in European club competitions: the city of Nottingham has won as many European trophies as the whole of France and double the number if, as I do, you regard Marseille’s European Cup victory in ’93 as having been tainted by Bernard Tapie’s bribes.

So – what else could you get for the money? I came across a page on West Berkshire Council’s site which shows a summary of its budget in two simple graphics. By these figures (though West Berkshire Council’s graphics don’t express the budget in these terms) if PSG didn’t want to buy Neymar they could instead pay for West Berkshire’s expenditure from today until 13 April 2019. Just a thought, guys.

Mind you, Neymar represents far better value than the ghastly white elephant in the room that is, or soon will be, HS2, coming not very soon to a station nowhere near here. This will cost an estimated £403m (or 2.03 Neymars) per mile, enough to pay for West Berkshire’s budget from now until early 2021. That’s just the official estimate, mind you. Many experts have suggested that the total cost could rise from the currently envisaged £56bn to over £100bn. This would make each mile of track costing closing to four Neymars.

It’s been claimed that HS2 will dramatically cut journey times: indeed, this seems to be its only advantage. A trip from London to Birmingham, for instance, will as a result be 39% shorter. As HS2 is presumably aimed at business travellers and as most business people now work on trains, the most likely result of this is that someone travelling from London to a meeting in Birmingham will arrive 39% under-prepared. This doesn’t seem worth paying £100bn for.

If HS2 were ditched and the funding allocated to West Berkshire Council – not, on the face of it, a very likely outcome – then would be enough to pay for things round here for the next 854 years (it might be 85.4 years or 8,540 years but all the zeros were making my head swim). Add Neymar into the mix and you only get about another 20 months. Suddenly, he’s beginning to seem rather better value for money.  Mind you, nothing could be worse value for money than HS2. It’s the new gold standard of governmental folly and vanity which will doubtless still be being used as a yardstick by generations yet unborn – who will, of course, also still be paying for it. At least Neymar’s being paid for by a private company, if UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Rules permit. They can do what they like with their money. HS2, however, will be paid for by us. Assuming the £100bn figure as being the more likely – after all, when was the last time a major project came in under budget? – I make it about £1,600 contributed by every man, woman and child in the country.

These financial comparisons, most involving figures higher than the human ear can hear, are starting to wear me out. Think I’ll turn the TV on and watch some football…

Brian Quinn
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