Speech

Investment in transport

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling on the skills and infrastructure needed to sustain transport investment in the UK.

The Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP

It’s a pleasure to join you for today’s conference.

The numbers here, and the sheer range of companies represented, demonstrate how far the Association has come since 1996.

Over the past 2 decades, you have:

  • brought the civil engineering sector together
  • spread knowledge and best practice
  • promoted innovation
  • and spoken on behalf of Britain’s civil engineering contractors

Your members are the people turning the government’s policies into concrete realities – literally.

So I offer my congratulations on the Association’s first 2 decades.

Yet today I want to talk not about the past, but about the future.

And about how we will make a success of the next 20 years for civil engineering in the UK.

And as we look ahead, we have great reasons for confidence.

You know how much time and money the government’s putting into Britain’s infrastructure.

Not only transport, but also:

  • flood defences
  • energy
  • the Thames Tideway tunnel
  • housing
  • superfast broadband
  • and new prisons, schools and hospitals

Altogether we’ve got over 600 different projects on our books – in planning or in construction – in all parts of the UK.

There’s some incredible civil engineering being done on those projects, much of it by people in this room.

I was out yesterday seeing one of those projects, the A14.

Yet the very biggest projects on the list are in transport.

On our existing railways, we’re spending over £38 billion on maintenance and enhancements.

We are building new stations and refurbishing old ones.

We are improving journeys by upgrading hundreds of miles of track.

We are bringing thousands of new train carriages into service.

We’re nearly at the end of the £15 billion Crossrail project – on time and on budget.

It’s been the largest construction project in Europe.

Yet next year that title will be inherited by another UK project: HS2.

Two weeks ago I announced the route that HS2 will take to the North.

And we start building the first phase from London to Birmingham just next year.

On our roads, £15 billion of investment is underway.

We’re resurfacing 80% of the existing network and building 1,300 new lane miles.

And then there’s the huge number of projects underway.

The ports at Felixstowe, London Gateway and Liverpool have received hundreds of millions of pounds of improvements so they can once again take the world’s biggest ships.

And, of course, our air links are about to be transformed.

We have given the green light to new taxiways at City Airport.

And Manchester, Bristol and Edinburgh airports have been spending a billion pounds each on improvements for passengers.

And yes, we’ve given long-overdue support to a third runway at Heathrow Airport.

All these projects are vital for the connectivity of our country.

To boost capacity, and raise productivity.

Yet 5 months ago, the government’s commitment to infrastructure was given new impetus by a further great reason for confidence: our vote for Brexit.

Some commentators speculated that, following the vote, our commitment to infrastructure spending would waver.

Well, they could not have been more wrong.

One of my first actions in this job was to confirm my support for HS2.

Now is our opportunity to show that we are:

  • a country that takes the big decisions
  • a country building new links with the world
  • a country that is open for business

And for the civil engineering profession, this is a great opportunity.

It means a steady stream of ground-breaking, pioneering work for decades to come.

So, yes, there are great reasons for confidence.

But there are also challenges.

We’re attempting to achieve something in transport on a scale unseen in living memory.

Yes, we’ve built new roads before.

We’ve built new runways.

And we’ve built new railways.

But we have not since Victorian times attempted projects on this scale.

It’s not that our engineers need more skills.

Rather, we need more skilled engineers.

Look ahead to 2020.

It’s the year that road investment hits peak construction.

By then, we’ll need an extra 15,000 road-building professionals of all kinds, including thousands of new engineers.

Also in 2020, Transport for London hits a peak construction phase, thanks to projects such as Bank station upgrade and the Northern Line extension.

TfL will need a further 8,000 construction professionals, including thousands more engineers.

And then there’s HS2.

When does Phase One hit peak construction?

Naturally, in 2020.

By then the project will need an extra 27,000 construction professionals, including over 8,000 engineers.

In total, we think to get all this work done, we’ll need an extra 56,000 skilled workers.

And the demand won’t fall once we get past 2020.

That’s also the year we begin our second Road Investment Strategy.

And we’ll be preparing for the start of construction for HS2 Phase 2 – the two lines to the North, a far bigger project than Phase 1.

And we’ll be pressing ahead with plans for Crossrail 2.

And we should expect Heathrow’s 3rd runway to start construction around 2022.

This shortage we’re facing is one compounded by demography.

Swathes of the rail industry, for example, are set to lose half their staff to retirement within 15 years.

But this isn’t just about age.

I would to see more women engineers.

And more black and minority ethnic engineers.

Fewer than 1 in 10 engineers in our country are women.

And just 4% are from ethnic minorities.

Yet look at the other professions, such as law, or medicine, the situation is very different indeed.

If we’re going to solve the skills shortage, we need that kind of parity in engineering, too.

And let me clear.

We are going to solve the skills shortage.

Given the importance of the task, we can’t afford not to.

So I have a straightforward message for all the companies operating in this field today.

If you want to win contracts in transport.

If you want to be part of the government’s investment programme.

You must prepare to leave a skills footprint in this country.

We want to see that you’re thinking about the future of the industry.

We want to see that by the end of the contract, your company will have greater depth in skills than at the beginning.

That means investing in training.

It means hiring more apprentices.

It means hiring from a wider pool of talent.

And it means we’re setting some minimum standards.

Earlier this year we published our Transport Infrastructure Skills Strategy.

It’s our plan to get an extra 30,000 more apprentices into transport, and to raise the number of women working in transport so it has parity with the level working in the economy as a whole.

Firms bidding for transport contracts must:

  • either hire and train one apprentice for every £3-to-£5 million of the contract’s value…

  • or, for every 200 people employed under the contract, create 5 apprenticeships for each year of the project

Every apprentice employed on a project, whether by contractor or sub-contractor, will count towards the target.

So we expect the effects to spread throughout the industry.

We also want more women given opportunities.

We want women to make up at least 20% of new entrants to engineering apprenticeships.

And we have a target of a 20% increase in the number of ethnic minority candidates winning places on apprenticeships by 2020.

This sounds like a challenge but we’re already making progress.

I have been impressed, for example, by Heathrow’s commitment to fund 10,000 apprenticeships as part of the expansion of the airport.

And HS2 Ltd is building two dedicated high speed rail colleges, in Birmingham and Doncaster, whose graduates will help build this high capacity railway.

Meanwhile, Crossrail has done a huge amount to get women working on the project.

A third of its workforce is female.

And I am pleased to be able to announce today that Mike Brown, Commissioner of Transport for London, has agreed to chair the government’s Strategic Transport Apprenticeship Taskforce.

We set up the taskforce this year to help address the skills challenge in a co-ordinated way, drawing on ideas and experience across the transport industry, and to monitor the progress we’re making.

Mike will continue to drive the collaboration that we started when we published the strategy.

And he will hold us all to account on progress, starting by publishing an Annual Report in the spring.

Welcome on board Mike.

So there’s lots happening

But there is more to do.

And if we succeed in the task of re-equipping the engineering workforce, if we get these projects done – like Crossrail – on time and on budget, we’ll not only transform our economy.

We’ll lift the prestige of British engineering the world over.

And that, in itself, brings new opportunities.

So many places around the globe already bear the hallmarks of British engineering.

Railways, bridges, road systems and buildings.

They are the visible evidence that we’ve long been pioneers in exporting ideas, ingenuity and talent.

I want that to continue – and to increase.

I’d like to see a new wave of engineering exports – with the completed projects in this country acting as adverts for British engineering capability.

So this is the task for our country’s civil engineers.

Not only to transform Britain’s transport.

Not only to export British engineering around the globe.

But to transform lives.

To inspire people to join this profession.

To train them.

To work with them.

To engineer the future of our country.

In all this, I know I can count on your support.

Why?

Because that’s what engineers do best.

Face challenges, solve them, and turn them into opportunities.

So, thank you for listening.

Thank you for your time.

And thank you for everything you are doing to give Britain the infrastructure we need for the 21st Century.

Published 30 November 2016