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HS2 Skills Academy

Volume 580: debated on Thursday 8 May 2014

In January, the Government announced its intention to set up a new high speed rail college to boost the development of railway and engineering skills across the UK. In March, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills launched a consultation to identify the location for the new main site. Responses are currently being assessed and we intend to make an announcement of the preferred site later this year. The college is expected to open in 2017.

Does the Secretary of State agree with me, though, that to show the country that HS2 is also about rebalancing the economy, it is vital that the academy is built either in the midlands—please—or even further north?

We saw at yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Question Time a number of bids, not least from my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), who is not allowed to ask me a question today on this issue. So the bids are coming from far and wide, and I am very pleased about that.

12. May we make a bid for the new skills academy to be located in the west midlands, preferably in the Coventry area? The Government promised to publish a jobs and skills strategy for high-speed rail last July. It is almost a year and nothing has been produced. Can the Secretary of State give us a date when it will be published? (903903)

Let me deal with whether the academy should be in Coventry in the west midlands. Of course, the west midlands is a very large area. From Coventry to Wolverhampton to Birmingham, all those areas are making bids for the college and I am very pleased about that. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) is saying that Stoke-on-Trent is in the west midlands. It is in the west midlands government area, but I am talking about the old west midlands metropolitan areas, which he may sort of remember.

The skills academy is vital so that we ensure that HS2 is built by skilled British workers. Notwithstanding the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Karen Lumley) and the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham), where better to build the skills academy in the geographical heart of the country, at the centre of this project, than in Nuneaton?

I had a very interesting visit with my hon. Friend when I went to Nuneaton station, when he made the case for a number of extra services that he would like to see calling there. I understand his bid for the academy. I am slightly worried as I am not sure what we will talk about on HS2 when we have made a decision on the location of the academy

One thing I think we will talk about is the review of connections between HS2 and the continent, which the Secretary of State announced almost two months ago. When does he envisage that review being complete?

I hope to be able to update the House further on those proposals later this year and on the work that the Department is doing, which is at the moment being led by Sir David Higgins.

Is the Secretary of State aware, though, that if the station goes ahead in the east midlands at Toton, businesses will relocate from the centre of Derby and Nottingham around the Toton area, and also a new conurbation will be built, which will effectively join up Derby and Nottingham and denude both their city centres?

I am not sure that I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. We need to ensure that development takes place in the whole area around where the new stations are going to be, and that there are infrastructure interconnections with those areas. But it is fair to say that, on the second part of the route—from Birmingham to Manchester and from Birmingham to Leeds—we are out to consultation, and those consultations are being considered at the moment.

I agree that the HS2 skills academy should be located at the centre of the project, which is right on Curzon street, on the east side of Birmingham. Is there any more information that the Secretary of State would require to convince him that that is the right location?

A number of people are making bids and the hon. Lady is but one of them. She is absolutely right about the importance of Curzon street in this project, which I think will be of great benefit to Birmingham. I look forward to discussing these proposals further with Sir Albert Bore, who is leader of Birmingham city council.

HS2 is obviously critical to my constituency’s development and also to the national interest. As the newest Member in this place—just—may I ask the Secretary of State to explain to me, in order to assist my development, where the Prime Minister and his AWOL colleagues were for those vital votes in the House last week?

Once the hon. Gentleman is in the House—it does not matter how long he has been here—he has the equal authority of any other Member. He is trying to play on the fact that he is the newest Member of the House, but he is treated the same way as any other Member as regards questions. He did remind me that the proposed route for HS2 would go directly under his house, so he does have a direct interest. There has never been any doubt about the Prime Minister’s commitment to this project. Indeed, his name is on the Bill. The only person who had doubts about the project was the shadow Chancellor, and I was very glad to see that he voted for the Bill last week.