(Original script, may differ from delivered version)
Thank you for coming today.
I’m really pleased to be in Aberdeen for the culmination of a nationwide process with a single purpose: to meet the companies who’ll build HS2.
We began in Liverpool in May, and since then we’ve visited Wales, the south, the midlands, the north of England, and many places in between.
Yet we’re finishing here.
There’s a reason why we wanted this process to culminate in Aberdeen.
And in a moment I will say what it is.
But first I’d like to talk about HS2 itself, and its significance to Scotland.
Because the sense I’ve sometimes got is that around here HS2 is seen as a distant project – something that might speed up journey times between cities in the south, but that won’t have much of an effect in, say, Edinburgh, Glasgow or Aberdeen.
So I’d like to say why that isn’t true.
The case for HS2: 3 observations
The case for building HS2 begins with 3 simple observations.
The first observation is one of geography and economics.
Recent decades in the UK have seen population, jobs and economic activity concentrate disproportionately in the far south-east of our country.
That’s been bad for elsewhere in the UK, including parts of the north of England, where my constituency is.
But it’s also unsustainable for the south-east.
The second observation is about the state of our existing railways.
Our railways have always been one of the UK’s best inventions for spreading wealth, jobs and economic growth around the country.
Yet in recent years they’ve become increasingly congested.
That’s not surprising.
When the East Coast Mainline from London to Edinburgh was completed in 1852, the UK had a population of 15 million people.
Today it has a population of 65 million.
Our railways simply weren’t built for the numbers of people who now want to use them.
In the last 20 years alone, the number of people travelling between London and Glasgow has more than doubled.
And the demand is set to increase still further.
It’s not just about crowding in the carriages.
It’s also about crowding on the tracks themselves.
Services on the West Coast Main Line between England and Scotland, for example, suffer from the need to carry both slow and fast trains on a two-track railway.
The fast trains catch up with the slow trains and can’t get past.
And that leads to my third and final observation.
If we’re to address the disproportionate concentration economic activity and jobs in the south, something’s got to change.
Yes, road and air travel can pick up some of that increasing demand for rail travel.
But not all of it.
We need a plan that will re-shape the economic landscape of our country.
And HS2 is a vital part of that plan.
HS2 has received the overwhelming backing of Parliament.
After construction begins next year, it will grow to become the largest construction project in Europe; eventually employing over 25,000 people.
Scotland will benefit from HS2
And from completion of the section from London to Birmingham in 2026, Scotland will benefit.
Because trains from HS2 will run to Scotland from its first day of opening.
On day 1, they’ll cut the journey time between London and Glasgow from 4 hours 31 minutes to 3 hours 56 minutes.
The section between the West Midlands and Crewe, due to open in 2027, will further reduce the journey time to 3 hours 43 minutes.
When the line’s fully complete in 2033, the journey time from London to Glasgow will be 3 hours 38 minutes and the time to Edinburgh will be 3 hours 39 minutes.
We’re already working to see how we can get the time down even more – perhaps to 3 hours.
Even so, by taking nearly an hour off the time between London and Scotland’s 2 biggest cities we expect to more than double passenger demand for travel on these routes.
And that’s demand we’ll be comfortably able to accommodate.
The better connectivity these new services will provide will allow businesses to access new opportunities, people to take jobs in other parts of the UK, and create extra space for freight.
In total, we expect these benefits to add around £100 million a year to the Scottish economy.
So there’s a clear case for Scotland to support HS2.
Yet we’d like the benefits of HS2 to come much sooner than the opening of the first section in 2026.
Scotland has the skills we need
And that’s why we’re here today.
Because we know that Aberdeen is home to people and businesses with the skills we need.
It’s a city with unrivalled experience in energy infrastructure, so much of which is transferable to a project like HS2.
It’s a city with a talent for taking on the biggest engineering challenges.
And it’s a city that’s home to 2 universities, both with excellent engineering schools, and both with graduate employment records that are among the very, very best in the UK.
In this room alone we’ve got local experts in:
…and much else.
We’re going to need all these skills – and more.
Scotland’s 7,500 engineering firms already have a great record of winning contracts on Britain’s biggest projects:
concrete for Crossrail
car park floors for Heathrow’s new Terminal 2
aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy
And now we come to sign the contracts for HS2.
They’re some of the largest contracts in UK construction history, comprising tens of thousands of opportunities; 60% of which we expect to award to small and medium sized firms; the single biggest UK infrastructure project for generations, and a brilliant opportunity for Scotland.
Shortly you’ll hear exactly what we’re looking for and how to get involved.
But for now I’d like to say thank you to everyone for coming.
Whether you come from Aberdeen, from further afield in Scotland, or from elsewhere in the UK.
We need the world’s best infrastructure professionals working on this project.
To get it built on time and on budget.
And looking at all the expertise gathered here today, I have no doubt that, together, we’ll succeed.