RAPID RESPONSES

Back to school

As a business studies teacher of many years standing, I read David Rutley’s column [Our schools must be open to business so we can have a bright economic future, Wednesday] with much interest. I agree wholeheartedly and believe much more should be done in order to promote the subject at school level.

One reason business subjects are not popular is because the subject doesn’t fit in with our school system’s expected manner of assessment. Teaching to ensure that students merely pass an exam in business does nothing to instil a sound knowledge of the subject or entrepreneurial spirit in our young people. The subject is far more complex than that. We need a complete rethink on how the subject is assessed and the expectations that we have of young people that are taking the subject.

Nicolas Athinodorou

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Business lessons

David Rutley is absolutely right to highlight the importance of improved employer engagement within schools and colleges. For the last decade Career Academies UK has worked with schools and colleges across the UK, predominantly in areas of social need, to raise the aspirations of 16 to 19-year-olds. We are now supported by over 1,000 employers and work with over 130 schools and colleges. Students on our programme benefit from a six-week paid internship and a mentor from the world of business over the two years. In addition they also receive lectures delivered by business volunteers and experience trips and visits to a host of different employers. Over 2,800 students have benefited from the programme so far – leaving with skills and experience that simply cannot be learnt via a textbook. I strongly urge all businesses to get involved as it brings a wealth of benefits to all involved and ensures this generation are enthusiastic and work-ready with the skills needed in this tough economic climate.

James McCreary chief executive, Career Academies UK

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Railway wars

I work as rail engineering manager for a company that builds and maintains railway stations, depots and track. However, these are my own views, not those of my firm.

You printed a number of views on HS2 in the paper yesterday, but none of them picked up on a vital point – we have tried the “incremental improvements” option before – only 10 years ago.

We spent circa £9bn on a range of upgrades that were supposed to deliver enhanced capacity for passengers and freight, and faster top speeds for the passenger trains to reduce journey times. This was the compromise when high-speed rail was rejected last time.

So, do you think the £9bn was well spent? Did you notice the difference? Are you travelling at 140mph in space and comfort?

That scheme did succeed in part – but it was mostly stuff that passengers don’t see, like better freight routing, and the piecemeal nature of the work made it hugely expensive for what was achieved. The increase in passenger train speeds was one casualty of the “value engineering” that resulted.

So do we spend billions doing the same again, battling local vested interests set against every platform extension, every platform canopy, and every car park that we need to add to make tiny improvements to people's ease of travel, or do we spend to build something new?

Much of the cost of a rail project in the UK is tied up in consultations, approval processes and budget uncertainty. I have seen schemes redesigned seven times as various layers of management demand a cut in build costs. Of course, each time the saving is spent on the redesign cost, and passengers get less and less for the money.

It will inevitably happen with HS2, as the politicians will demand a review after every election, which will take one to two years to complete before they agree to proceed again. But it is even worse for the incremental improvements option. Each time there is a political delay in a scheme to improve an existing line, temporary measures must be used (often at great expense) to keep it running while the review is in process. These are then scrapped when approval to continue with the main work is granted.

Steve King

Never having been to Birmingham (but having used the bullet train in Japan), the costs seem excessive, the link does not seem “critical” to the UK’s competitiveness, and the time frame (especially by Chinese standards) is risible. Admittedly train transport in this country is poor and expensive, and does require investment. Nevertheless I am convinced that for £37bn you can make much more critical infrastructure investments to improve this country’s competitiveness (including a new runway at Heathrow, and I live in Chiswick under the flight path).

Omar Ben Yedder

I declare an interest as someone who lives in the Chilterns, but I am also an experienced project manager and a commuter into London for 25 years. In simple terms the justification is net present value over some 60-ish years (I'm taking a more realistic view that the project will be five years late starting and 10 years longer in the construction). But I already am using teleworking more and more year-on-year. Technology advances, and work/life balance means today’s tech-literate youth won't want or need to travel routinely and regularly on long distance journeys – let technology take the strain.

Keith Gawler

HS2’s externalities of hidden costs such as extra noise, pollution and extra congestion on slower trains to Birmingham do not appear to have been calculated in the cost-benefit analysis. In addition, what is the risk-adjusted expected rate of return on this project vis a vis other projects of similar scale and duration? Have the opportunity costs of foregone projects been quantified? I am not convinced.

Anthony Wills

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@cityamforum

HS2 can mobilise talent across the country and is good for housing issues – argument should be on the accessibility/cost of use.

Leon Bailey-Green

100 per cent agree with @allisterheath on HS2. Where capex is greater than a certain level there should be a vote #debtaddicts

Cat Markwell @citygirlcat

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