I’m really glad to be joining you in the Midlands for my first trip as Secretary of State for Transport.
And I am particularly glad to be in Derby.
If any city can claim to be Britain’s transport engine room, Derby can.
Derby’s been building trains for 180 years.
The East Midlands Rail Forum, based here in Derby, represents over 150 rail businesses across the region. It’s the greatest concentration of rail organisations in the world, together employing 25,000 people and contributing billions to the economy.
And it’s great news for everyone in Rolls Royce’s Derby factory that, last week at Farnborough Air Show, Rolls Royce won a new order worth nearly £700 million to build engines in Derby for Virgin Atlantic’s jets.
Yet if Derby is a great transport city, the Midlands is a world-beating transport region, with Jaguar Land Rover outside Coventry, Toyota in Burnaston, and the vast logistics hubs of Northamptonshire and Leicestershire.
Supporting our geat regional cities
Of course, recently the Midlands was in the headlines for another reason, after Theresa May chose Birmingham as the place to launch her national campaign to become Prime Minister.
In her speech that day, the Prime Minister said that we need:
A proper industrial strategy to get the whole economy firing, and a plan to help not one or even two of our great regional cities but every single one of them.
That is why I was keen to come to the Midlands today (21 July 2016) – to express my thanks for Midlands Connect’s Picking up the pace (PDF, 1.7MB) report and its proposals for firing up the Midlands Engine.
How much has been achieved?
I am glad the report recognises how far we have come in the last few years.
In 2010, the country was on the brink.
We were borrowing £1 in every £4 that we spent.
Midlands businesses were going under at a rate of over a hundred every day.
And nearly half a million people in the Midlands were looking for work.
If we were to save our economy, we had to act.
We cut overall spending.
Cut corporation tax.
And cut red tape.
Yet the tough decisions we took to rein in spending elsewhere in the economy meant that we could afford to invest in transport.
And it’s right that the Midlands, the region that gives so much transport to the world, is receiving its share.
In the East Midlands, we’ve spent £150 million to widen the A453.
Two hundred million pounds to upgrade the M1, creating a smart motorway link between Derby, Nottingham and Sheffield.
On the railways, we’re pressing ahead with electrification of the Midland Mainline, which by 2019 will allow electric trains to run from Bedford to Kettering and Corby.
In Nottingham, we spent £370 million extending the tram network.
And in Birmingham, we spent £75 million extending the Metro from Snow Hill through the city centre to Stephenson Street, and we oversaw a £750 million transformation of Birmingham New Street.
Our investment in the Midlands’ transport infrastructure is far from complete.
Yet the difference is already clear.
There are 40,000 more businesses in the Midlands than there were in 2010.
More people in work here than at any time since 1992.
And as your Picking up the Pace report points out, over the last year private sector employment in the Midlands grew 3 times faster than in London and the south east.
Focus on the travelling public
And for me, that is what transport is really for: to make lives better, to help people get to work, access education, visit family or reach healthcare.
It’s them, the travelling public, to whom we are accountable.
And during my time as Secretary of State for Transport, it’s their side I will take, as their champion and advocate.
I have a simple test for any transport network.
Does it enable people to get to where they need to go, safely, quickly, cleanly and affordably?
If so, it is working, and we are succeeding.
But if journeys are beset by congestion, crowding, needless cost or preventable pollution, then we are not succeeding and we need to take action to change things.
Case for further investment
I was pleased, therefore, that as well as making clear what has been achieved so far, the report also makes clear what needs to be achieved in future.
I agree with the report, that even taking into account all that’s been done in the Midlands in the past 6 years, we’re still catching-up with demand for travel.
We’re used to hearing that passenger numbers have doubled since we privatised the railways.
But that statistic doesn’t accurately describe the situation in the Midlands.
In the East Midlands, rail passenger journeys are up 125%.
And in the West Midlands, they’re up an astonishing 250%; a far greater rise than in any other region in England, Scotland or Wales.
And while the 75% growth in rail freight since privatisation is good news, it’s put extra pressure on the Midlands’ infrastructure; 4 out of 5 main UK rail freight routes run through this region.
No plans to drop HS2
To me, those statistics make clear the case for a new high speed, high capacity line linking the Midlands to London and the north.
So one of my first public statements after my appointment was to confirm that I have no plans to back away from HS2.
The Midlands needs HS2.
It’s an essential part of our blueprint to build a better transport system for Britain.
And I am therefore pleased with the report’s recognition that the best way for this region to reap the benefits of HS2 is to work together.
That means working with agencies such as Highways England and HS2 Ltd. But also it also means working together as a region, and so to make sure that HS2 is properly connected to the rest of the Midlands.
Of course, even though the HS2 bill is making excellent progress through Parliament, and even though we are on track to start construction just next year, we still need to keep making the case for the project; building support, helping people understand that it’s about capacity, not just about speed.
But, in conclusion, I thank you for this report.
We will study it and carefully consider its proposals and recommendations.
Thank you for allowing me to join you today.
I’m sure it will be the first of many trips here as Secretary of State for Transport, as I see first-hand the transport networks for which I am now responsible.
I look forward to your emerging strategy in October and your full Midlands Connect strategy next year.