HS2 driving growth in the UK supply chain
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.
First of all, thanks for coming today (5 November 2013).
The response to this conference has been incredible.
There are 800 people here today.
I think that illustrates how much interest there is in this project.
Not just in the rail industry.
But in the construction and engineering industries too.
And not just among big infrastructure companies.
Over a quarter of you here today work for businesses employing 50 people or fewer.
And in some cases far fewer.
That tells us something very important about HS2.
It’s about opportunities for all.
Opportunities for passengers, communities and businesses across the country.
And opportunities for every part of the supply chain.
From large infrastructure builders to the smallest technology providers.
And there’s another very special opportunity that HS2 presents.
It’s the opportunity to be part of the biggest transport project in modern British history.
This country was the birthplace of the railway.
And the men who designed and built it were among the most famous and celebrated people of the Victorian era.
Their names are still famous.
Men like Telford, Brunel and Stephenson.
They had the vision, ambition, and determination to transform this country.
And by the way, the level of opposition and criticism they faced was far more formidable than today.
The first legislation to build a new rail line from London to Birmingham was defeated partly on the grounds that canals and turnpike roads were good enough for a growing economy.
That’s a line we still depend on today.
It’s called the West Coast mainline.
As constructors and engineers, you understand the importance of good infrastructure.
How it becomes part of the fabric of society.
How it keeps paying back, generation after generation.
Trouble is, you haven’t had the chance to work on any really pioneering national transport schemes – anything that Brunel or Telford would have approved of – for some considerable time.
Because, while our competitors like France, Germany, Japan and China have been investing for the future, we’ve rather opted out of the infrastructure race.
In fact between 2000 and 2007 the UK was the lowest infrastructure investor of all OECD member states.
And under the last government in the World Economic Forum rankings for infrastructure this country fell from 7th to 33rd.
Actually, the truth is that we’ve been neglecting our transport network for decades.
But this government is turning that around.
Since 2008 we’ve learnt some tough lessons.
That we have to make ourselves more resilient as an economy, and more competitive too.
And that this won’t just happen if we don’t make long-term decisions about investment and infrastructure - and stick to them.
Last month, I was in China.
Seven years ago, it didn’t have any high speed rail lines.
By next year, its high speed rail network will carry more passengers than all America’s domestic airlines combined.
Now, I’m not saying we need to copy China. We don’t.
In fact in some ways like environmental management, China is keen to learn from us.
But on one point I am absolutely certain.
We can’t just ignore what is happening in places like Asia and Latin America.
We are competing in a global economy that’s in constant flux.
Our society is changing.
Our population is going up.
And we’re travelling more and more.
We can’t continue to ignore these realities if we want to grow.
So let me give you a few facts about how things are changing.
We’ve announced £24 billion of investment in our strategic roads network.
A tripling of the national roads budget.
And £37 billion of network rail investment between 2014 and 2019.
With a spending review settlement that will see more than £70 billion of capital investment in transport in the next Parliament.
The message is clear.
Britain is doing infrastructure again.
And just as transport made Britain a global leader during the industrial revolution, we’re determined that it will do the same for the country in the 21st century.
But only if we work in partnership with you.
In recent years, together we’ve proved that we do have what it takes in this country to deliver world class infrastructure.
We’ve built High Speed 1, Terminal 5 at Heathrow, St Pancras and King’s Cross, and one of the best Olympic Games ever.
And today, we’re building Crossrail and Thameslink together, on time and on budget.
Nevertheless, we haven’t done anything as ambitious as HS2 for 50 years.
This is a big challenge.
So we need to be ready.
We will have to work closely together early on.
To get planning completed before the start of the formal procurement process.
By sticking to a carefully managed schedule - together with the phased construction of the line - your businesses will have the time you need to invest, to recruit and train staff, and to plan your growth as the project develops.
A key part of the challenge is to ensure we have the specific skills required for HS2.
It will test our supply chain like never before.
So we need to make the most of the skills we already have.
And as suppliers gain experience with technically innovative projects overseas, we need to bring those skills home.
To train apprentices.
To make sure HS2 reflects the very highest design and manufacturing standards.
And to drive down cost.
Up for grabs is more than £10 billion of HS2 contracts.
A guaranteed flow of investment sustained over decades.
A commitment by the government to help the industry further build its capabilities.
Which of course will ultimately help you compete for more global contracts in the future.
Let me just give you 2 examples of how we will help.
This summer we announced a long-term partnership between government and the construction industry to get Britain building and winning contracts overseas.
Called Construction 2025, it focuses on reducing barriers to growth, filling skills gaps, and training the next generation of construction workers.
To deliver the strategy a new Construction Leadership Council has been created.
And it will be jointly chaired by Business Secretary Vince Cable and Sir David Higgins, who of course takes over at HS2 from Doug in the new year.
Last week I also announced a new industry-led initiative called the Rail Industry Supply Chain Forum.
In the face of stiff competition from countries like France and Germany, the UK rail supply chain has struggled to grow in recent years.
So the Forum will bring together UK suppliers and government to help our industry fight back.
It was fitting that I made the announcement in County Durham.
On the site of the new Hitachi assembly plant where the next generation of inter-city express trains will be built.
Because government, suppliers and the team at Agility have worked closely together, with shared ambitions for the future, and this partnership has been instrumental in the success of the Hitachi programme so far.
And that brings me back to where I started.
To the great Victorian spirit that gave us the infrastructure we depend on today.
To the belief that HS2 can promote better opportunity for all.
We haven’t lost the ambition.
And I know you haven’t either.
So let’s work together.
And let’s build it.
High Speed Rail Supply Chain Conference SoS interview
*[HS2] : High Speed 2