The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee recently launched the ‘My BEIS Inquiry’, inviting stakeholders and the wider public to come forward with suggestions for issues the Committee should investigate over the course of this Parliament. The BEIS Committee is open to looking at issues from across the policy remit of the Department, including areas such as business, Industrial Strategy, consumer protection, corporate governance, jobs and working conditions, energy policy, clean growth and climate change.

We responded to the consultation in the following way:

Please outline the issue that you would like the Committee to look into:

The Committee should look into how major infrastructure projects can level up the whole of the UK, and how a fully integrated high speed rail network would boost productivity. This would look at rebalancing the economy, regeneration of the North, and how benefits to business can spread to support wide range of sectors including jobs, manufacturing, investment and export potential.

HS2 and NPR are the two flagship examples of such programmes, and besides reducing journey times and increasing capacity, they will also support business growth and job creation, both directly in the engineering and construction sectors, as well as in regional economies and supply chains. HS2 is also the only way to achieve a modal shift from aviation and road to high speed rail, as we set out in HS2 – towards a zero carbon future.

The Committee could review which institutions are required, how integration might work, how HS2 and NPR can deliver the best value for businesses and consumers, and how a national high speed rail network would level-up the UK. With the Notice to Proceed for HS2 issued and the project beginning in earnest, now is the perfect time to look into how best to maximise its benefits.

Why does this issue deserve attention? 

Major infrastructure projects will drive regional business growth as we look to rebalance our national economy. High speed rail will feed into local industrial strategies, bring Britain’s towns and cities closer together, join up a fragmented union and close the productivity gap between London and the North.

Given the impact that Covid-19 is having on business, a Government-led public works programme to invest in major infrastructure could provide the shot in the arm that Britain’s economy will need both during and following this difficult period, supporting resilience and growth in the national economy.

Major infrastructure projects are also promote a range of other benefits, as HSRG show in the report Why Britain Needs HS2. HS2 will boost UK exports, skills, and build and grow businesses in the industry and beyond. The scheme is currently supporting approximately 11,000 jobs, and is set to support 15,000 jobs by year end. Ultimately, it will underpin 400,000 jobs overall and 70% of these outside of London.

Combined with the environmental benefits of modal shift from air and road to rail, HS2 is essential for both joining-up Britain and a pre-requisite for a net zero future.

How could Government policy in this area be improved? 

With Government pushing ahead with HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, additional action can be taken to level up Britain, boost jobs, businesses, and productivity, and make the UK a world leader in engineering and manufacturing. The Government should consider how it views integration between schemes, as well as other projects that could contribute to maximising the benefits of an wider fully integrated high speed rail network, including major environmental benefits.

Such an integrated high speed rail network would connect all the regions, major cities, and countries of the UK to help bring the country back together. More than this, the country is in a unique position to establish itself as a world leader in any number of industries that rely on HS2 and other major infrastructure projects for their success.

Besides engineering and manufacturing, a national high speed rail network will make the UK a first port of call for expertise in civils, architecture, archaeology, design, and low carbon construction. Government support is needed to make this a reality, whether through a change in how infrastructure projects are assessed, the green book or through clearer commitments to make infrastructure a key priority for boosting businesses.