Good morning everyone.
It’s wonderful to see so many of you today (17 October 2014). Over 700 people representing more than 500 businesses. From small technology specialists to global infrastructure developers. All linked by a common purpose. To be part of the biggest rail project in this country since the Victorian era. And the most exciting engineering scheme in Britain for generations.
One of the words you’re hearing most often today is “momentum”. Because the HS2 programme is entering a completely new phase. And it’s moving forward, quickly. The fundamental case for the new line has been made. Providing the capacity and connectivity we need. To meet rapidly rising demand. Relieve overcrowding. And support economic growth.
We’ve explained the benefits for passengers and businesses. The potential for regeneration around HS2 stations. And the positive impact the new railway will have on rebalancing our economic geography.
So the debate’s progressed from whether we should build it to how we should build it. And how we can make the most of our investment. And not a moment too soon.
Because in infrastructure terms, HS2 is just around the corner. Subject to royal assent, construction starts in just 3 years’ time. The Bill’s been making good progress through Parliament. It is now moving through the committee stage. Of course, as it does so, we are continuing to listen to people’s concerns. And where we can, making improvements.
But most importantly, the Bill has received overwhelming cross-party support. Confidence of market. And that’s vital. Because it sends a message to you, and to everyone out there. That HS2 will be delivered. That enabling work will begin in 2016. And that the building of Phase One between London and Birmingham will begin in 2017.
But there’s another reason why you can plan ahead for HS2 with confidence. And that’s the record of this government over the past 4 and a half years. We said we’d pay back Britain’s debts, and we are.
In fact the public deficit today is almost half the level we inherited in 2010. We said we’d sort out our economic problems, and get Britain growing again, and we have. This country now has the fastest growing economy of any major developed nation.
And we said that investment in infrastructure would be at the heart of our growth strategy and it is.
When you look at where we were 4 and a half years ago, we’ve made massive progress. Not so long ago, a British government would have raided the transport budget in times of austerity. Found an excuse to delay Crossrail yet again. Cancel electrification. And derail HS2.
But we did the opposite. Critics thought that a Coalition couldn’t get anything done. Well we changed the way we thought about infrastructure. We made transport a central part of our strategy for growth and jobs. We developed a National Infrastructure Plan that had been lacking for so long.
Providing a steady and predictable chain of schemes over time. All backed by record investment. But of all those infrastructure projects, HS2 is the biggest. By far. No other scheme will offer the same transformational benefits. No other scheme promises to change the fabric of the nation.
Providing the space we desperately need to grow as an economy, and to prosper as a country.
Engagement and challenges
Quite simply, this is one of the most amazing opportunities of our generation. The question is, how to grasp that opportunity and exploit it to the full. That’s what today’s conference is all about.
Simon and David have given you a detailed update on HS2 progress. But this is also a chance for you to get together. A chance for you to meet your fellow suppliers.
To share ideas. And maybe see if there’s potential to work together.
This is your event as much as it’s ours. Because now that we’re moving on to a new stage with the project, HS2 is as much yours as ours. All of us have a stake in this. And all of us have to find solutions to the challenges we face. This is not “business as usual” for anyone here today. We’re all learning as we progress. That’s what makes it so exciting.
We in government are learning how to ease a project of this size through planning and procurement. And to re-inspire pride in British engineering. The rail industry too is having to overcome its traditional risk-averse approach. Which in the past may have stopped it embracing new technologies and new ways of working.
And each of you faces your own particular challenge. Finding the best answers to the questions that HS2 poses. Increasingly, the spotlight is turning on you.
Because it’s now that we start to harness the innovation and creativity of the supply chain. That’s why we consulted and engaged with you early. From the first supply chain conference this time last year. This was something the HS2 Growth Taskforce encouraged us to do. Its excellent report was called “Get Ready” for a reason. To set new standards for industry engagement. And to make opportunities accessible for businesses of all sizes.
We’ve listened and responded to what you told us. Your positive feedback has been instrumental in the development of our procurement strategy.
For example in the key areas of skills and apprenticeships. We’ve now committed to providing at least 2,000 opportunities for apprentices through HS2. More than double the number created by the London Olympics and Crossrail together. And skills is now one of our strategic priorities for procurement. That was re-affirmed recently when we announced that the new National College for High Speed Rail will be based in Birmingham, with a further site in Doncaster.
Giving specialist vocational training to the next generation of engineers working on HS2 and beyond. So the positive and open dialogue we’ve developed over the past year has been crucial. And let me assure you that it will continue as we move ahead. That’s something that Beth West will speak about in a short while.
But let me finish with one last observation.
We’ve proved in this country that we do have what it takes to deliver world class rail infrastructure. Together we’ve built High Speed 1. Together, we’ve built St Pancras and King’s Cross. And together, we’re building Crossrail and Thameslink - on time and on budget. Of course HS2 is on a different scale to any of these schemes. We haven’t done anything this ambitious for 50 years.
But when I see the diversity and expertise of our supply chain in this country. And when I see how much enthusiasm there is for this project across the industry. I know that the future of HS2 is in excellent hands. So please take full advantage of today.
And thank you for listening.