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Railways: High Speed 2

Volume 750: debated on Wednesday 18 December 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to establish training facilities in relation to the extra jobs anticipated to be created by the HS2 project.

My Lords, we expect the construction of HS2 to generate up to 50,000 jobs, which represents a huge opportunity for the UK workforce. HS2 Ltd is developing skills and procurement strategies that will identify the skills required to deliver HS2 and set out the approach to promoting skills and training throughout the procurement process. The Government will, in responding to the task force of the noble Lord, Lord Deighton, set out what we will do to support and build on this work.

I thank the Minister for her encouraging reply. With the likely approval of this new railway link and the need for 19,000 construction and engineering employees, what action will the Government take to ensure that our youngsters throughout the United Kingdom are adequately trained in sufficient time to take advantage of these opportunities? Secondly, can the Minister tell me whether the Government would consider setting up scholarships related to HS2 so that youngsters throughout the United Kingdom will be able to apply for and, we hope, find employment in this new construction?

I thank my noble friend. He is exactly right that the demand for skills would be significant, not only with HS2 but with all the other infrastructure projects that are being launched thanks to the actions of this Government. My noble friend will take some comfort from the fact that the National Skills Academy for Railway Engineering, which was established in 2010 with wide railway industry support, is helping to tackle the current and future skills needs within the industry. It is working closely with HS2 to identify skills gaps and promote railway engineering skills. We obviously have the Tunnelling and Underground Construction Academy, which has played an important role in the Crossrail project; one would assume that it would do so with the super-sewer for London and then HS2. The skills academy is one of the participants, along with BIS and the DfT, with some support also provided by Siemens, in looking at training entry-level employees as well as skilling up others to respond to new technology developments in the industry with initiatives such as the Siemens Rolling Stock Academy.

My Lords, when the Prime Minister recently visited China, he announced that the Chinese would help us build HS2. Can we expect several thousand Chinese people to flood into this country, and will they be welcomed in the same way that Romanians and Bulgarians apparently will be?

My Lords, the discussion was primarily about finance, rather than the range of engineering skills and jobs on which I have just reported. I can assure the noble Lord that the programme that HS2, along with various engineering companies, is taking out is targeted at schools in Britain rather than those overseas. For example, HS2 sent a contingent of 30 people to the skills show in Birmingham to which youngsters came from all over the country. I am confident that a large number of these skills can be achieved in the UK, creating a base for our youngsters to participate not only in HS2 but in a wide range of engineering projects. However, we will always consider financing from overseas.

My Lords, my noble friend’s enthusiasm is almost infectious but I have not caught it yet. Can she assure the House that no report on the implications and costs of HS2 will be withheld, either in whole or in part, by the Government?

My Lords, I can confidently say, looking at the size of the body of documents that was disclosed with the hybrid Bill, that the Government have been putting out more data than most people have ever seen around a project of this size and interest. It is crucial that we are open and transparent and, although there will be times when we have internal discussions, the transparency has been quite exceptional in this case.

My Lords, will the Minister look at the very successful National Grid Transco young offender programme, which has trained more than 1,000 young offenders to become workers in the utilities, and see whether it can be applied in this instance? Will she also consider whether young people leaving care, who are overrepresented in the NEET category, can be drawn into this?

My Lords, we are looking at this infrastructure project in an exciting way. Rather than treating it within a transport silo, we are looking much more at the regeneration possibilities. The idea raised by the noble Earl has real potential and I will definitely take it back.

My Lords, in the spirit of Christmas, I have two presents: two easy questions for the Minister at this stage. Will the HS2 jobs and skills strategy, to which she referred, be published and, if so, when? Will she also clarify a little more how we will protect the skills developed through Crossrail—to which she also referred—and ensure that they will be available for HS2?

My Lords, there is never an easy question from the noble Lord, Lord Davies, but I do appreciate it. As he knows, the noble Lord, Lord Deighton, is going round the country with a series of consultations looking at the economic growth issues, of which skills are a very important part. Work is happening through many strands: HS2 itself, the work of the noble Lord, Lord Deighton—whose report is expected in the spring—and other more general work with the industry. I will see whether there is a way to pull these strands together into a more comprehensive piece that would give the noble Lord the picture he is seeking.

I have now completely forgotten the second issue. Would the noble Lord mind telling me?

Crossrail has done two crucial things on skills. It has played an important role in the tunnelling academy and we want that to carry over. It has also been excellent at engaging with British companies in the supply chain. By number, rather than value, 97% of contracts have gone to British-based contractors. We hope to see that repeated by using the same techniques of outreach.