Monday 23 November 2020 4:21 am

HS2 is a shot in the arm for the post-pandemic economy

Mark Thurston is chief executive of HS2 Ltd

It is no exaggeration to say that 2020 has been one of the most difficult years in modern history for many businesses.

But as the year draws to a close, we have great reason for optimism: widespread roll-out of  a vaccine is edging closer, and it looks like we will be able to begin to focus on the economic recovery as we look to 2021.

Connectivity will be crucial to that recovery — and that makes the potential offered by a new high-speed rail link more important than ever before.

Read more: Five ways the travel industry can save itself

Throughout the pandemic, the HS2 project has kept progressing, and that momentum has helped to secure thousands of jobs across the country. After a short hiatus in March, our now 13,000 strong workforce was quickly back in place at almost all of our 240 construction sites. 

Getting back to work on HS2 safely was critical for the businesses and people who work in the construction, manufacturing and engineering sectors, as well as the less recognised industries supporting this national endeavour, such as catering and logistics. And I know that the project will continue to be at the heart of our country’s recovery in 2021, years ahead of the first trains running.

But its full potential will be felt for generations to come.

As the first new major railway connecting the Midlands and the North for over a century, HS2 presents a genuine opportunity to reshape and rebalance our economy. It will not only deliver high-speed connections between our biggest towns and cities, but represents the largest upgrade to local rail services in generations. 

Taking fast trains off the existing lines and freeing up space for more commuter and freight trains is what communities and businesses have been crying out for from the railways. HS2 delivers on that promise. This will mean fewer cars and lorries on our roads, and fewer domestic flights — both are vital for the nation’s green recovery. At its heart, this is a path to cleaner, greener growth.

But HS2’s immediate benefits are what matter right now, during these tough economic conditions. Keeping order books filled and winning new contracts is crucial to every British business’s survival, which is why the £12bn of new supply chain opportunities that HS2 is unlocking at an event starting today are more important than ever.

With main works now well underway across the 140-mile route, the opportunities for businesses of all sizes, right across the country, spring to life. Our construction partners and station contractors are starting to procure the supplies and services they need to deliver their sections of the route. 

And it’s not just construction firms that are set to benefit; we need fleet, landscapers, on-site caterers, signage and hoardings specialists. Think big and double it. Our supply chain will be huge and that’s great news for businesses who are looking to grow, diversify or recover.

We are proud that 98 per cent of HS2’s contracts have been awarded to UK-based businesses, which is a lifeline for thousands of companies. A contract with HS2 is the guarantee that many are seeking, and we’re determined to ensure that SMEs, which have already been awarded 70 per cent of contracts, continue to play an intrinsic part in building our new railway. 

HS2 will join up Britain to help build a more united country where every region of the UK can reach its economic potential. But its transformative potential is already here. We are central to the national drive to build back better — and it is British business and British jobs that will help us to do it.

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Main image credit: Getty

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