Step up and embrace the ‘courage economy’

COMMENT I am going to start a new movement. I am going to call it the “courage economy”. It will be a direct response to the disturbing times in which we live. An explicit plea for bravery and positivity in a post-Brexit economy.

There are a lot of very destructive forces at work in our national politics right now. The latest manifestation of this is that it has become commonplace to assume a testosterone-fuelled posture against HS2. And, most worrying, the naysayer debate has shifted from the CPRE-style “hands off our land” Nimby arguments firmly onto whether HS2 represents value for money.

Never mind the bald truth that poor connections, following decades of underinvestment in the rail network between our major cities, have been holding the UK back for decades.

The issue of HS2, as an investment in our future, has been coming up at BBC’s Question Time for some weeks now, with seemingly little or no appetite from various panellists to speak up in favour. Last Thursday, it was left to a chap in the audience to defend; luckily he was from the construction industry and rather well informed. But it highlighted a lamentable void in leadership from the body politic.

Mealy mouthed pronouncements

Recent mealy mouthed pronouncements from various Tory leadership candidates in regard to HS2 have been alarming. And this sentiment is spreading from HS2 to other infrastructure projects.

Earlier this week the Civil Engineering Contractors Association felt the need to urge that “the contenders to replace Theresa May as UK prime minister must back existing investment plans for UK infrastructure to secure the economy”. People are – rightly – spooked by a stark failure in national leadership.

Last week, the civic leaders of the north of England felt compelled to write a (wholly admirable) letter to the chief secretary of the Treasury, underlining their “continued support for HS2 as one of the keys to unleashing the full economic potential of all our regions”. But we need to do more. The property industry needs to step up and make the case. We need a courage economy.

And the case is clear. In rebuilding our economy from the bottom up over the next few decades, HS2 is an essential plank in the strategy of Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, all our great cities, to deliver faster economic growth which benefits all our communities.

The city plans for investment in local transport networks, skills, regeneration and inward investment are predicated on, and integrated with, the delivery of HS2.

Like catnip to investors

I have seen with my own eyes the effect that HS2 has on foreign direct investors: frankly, it is like catnip to Middle Eastern or Asian money looking for a home. We can’t afford to turn our back on this superb investment platform.

And HS2 can already be shown to be having a positive impact as the private sector makes positive investment decisions now in anticipation of its arrival. Altogether, city regions along the route have plans to create nearly 500,000 jobs and add billions to the UK economy. What’s not to like?

It beggars belief that politicians are wasting time arguing the whys and wherefores of HS2 now, rather than stepping up and utilising it as a platform for the government to firmly commit to similar rail transformation throughout the North, to boost regional productivity right across the UK. Such transformational investment would help build the various local industrial strategies for each place, harnessing strengths around advanced manufacturing, engineering and professional services and bring jobs to our great cities. We need more, much more, of this, not less.

A matter of national pride

Instead of equivocating, HS2 should be embraced by all Tory leadership candidates (or any national politician come to that) as a matter of national pride – rather sorely needed at present, wouldn’t you say?

Now, more than ever, we need to deliver Europe’s largest infrastructure project without delay. As the northern civic leaders say: “Failure to make a clear commitment to the full delivery of HS2 at this time would be a disaster for our regional economies and our national prosperity for decades to come.”

Bravo! We need our national leaders to emulate our local leaders. Fortune favours the brave. It is time to step up and embrace the courage economy.

Jackie Sadek is chief operating officer at UK Regeneration