Some excellent announcements concerning the Constellation Partnership during the course of yesterday have put us all in a better mood.
As I was able to tell those scary women at BBC R5 Live’s Wake up to Money the HS2 announcements are all GOOD NEWS generally for the British economy. HS2 will now come into its own as a motor for local economic activity, which is, frankly, a far more important story than shortening distance times. As we in the Constellation Partnership never tire of saying: HS2 is a growth strategy, not a railway.
And the ability of this fantastic piece of British engineering to change the economic geography of the UK cannot be underestimated. It will underpin the rebalancing of the economy, with the Crewe project pivotal at the intersection of the Northern Powerhouse and the Midlands Engine.
And it was good news to see that the awarding of the first contracts would lead to a shift in focus away from engineering and line alignment to opportunities for real people, with the creation of 16,000 jobs straight off and the opportunities for SMEs to participate. As a start point, HS2 is expected to create 2,000 apprenticeships and has created two skills colleges in Birmingham and Doncaster to help train/retain thousands of people so that they have the skills needed to work on the project. Hurrah!
Our job now is to ensure that as many people are able to participate as is possible. I am up in the Constellation patch later today, hosted by my good friends in Stafford, and we will be discussing the Constellation contribution to all this; we will be looking to offer a major part of the off-site construction effort, as part of our overall industrial strategy.
Transport secretary Chris Grayling also confirmed Britain’s high-speed rail lines to the North West, East Midlands and Yorkshire, beyond Crewe, which further affirms the massive economic boost for the North and Midlands by increasing productivity and creating new business opportunities. And the new line will free up thousands of extra seats and additional services on local lines. New research shows the impact of HS2 could more than double rush hour seats from Manchester Piccadilly towards Stoke and Crewe; and from Leeds towards Wakefield. It could also almost double peak seats from London to Peterborough and east coast destinations further north. And by providing new routes for intercity services, HS2 will free-up space on our existing railways for new commuter, regional and freight services, taking lorries off our roads. It is a major boost to capacity generally.
So good news for all us involved in the HS2 hub at Crewe. And we were just getting the bunting out when – total joy – we learnt the fantastic news that Stoke-on-Trent has been shortlisted by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for the UK City of Culture 2021 competition. Our cup runneth over.
For Stoke to have made the shortlist is fantastic news. There are now just five cities left in the running. And as the admirable and indefatigable David Sidaway of Stoke Council says: “Getting to this stage has been a result of so many people coming together to benefit the city. It really shows that Stoke is on the up. I’d like to say a huge thank you to you for your involvement and support of the bid so far. We will now be looking to build on what we’ve done to achieve a strong, ambitious final bid that shows the UK exactly what Stoke-on-Trent can do.”
Well! On top of the HS2 announcements, what a wonderful boost to morale. My congratulations to all concerned. And I will be speaking to the Constellation Partnership board later today about what we can do to help Stoke by all of us jointly and severally getting behind the bid in the run-up to the final.
Winning the competition would be the start of a legacy with a far-reaching impact that would benefit the entire city of Stoke, and the rest of the Constellation, bringing more jobs, more visitors, more top quality cultural activity, boost skills and capacity and increase collaboration, pride and self-confidence.
And the sun is shining, as I clamber aboard my train to Stafford this lunchtime. What more could a girl wish for?