John Downer: Scrapping HS2 wouldn’t help the North, it would cut a vital lifeline to the regional economies

Crucial investment in local rail infrastructure isn’t an alternative to the new line, it depends on it.

John Downer is a Director of High Speed Rail Industry Leaders (HSRIL), a group of companies and organisations which is committed to supporting the successful delivery of a world-class high speed rail network in Britain.

Every few months – and more often recently– comes the call to scrap HS2 and spend the money on something else.

And we’ve had it again this week on these very pages, reiterating previous suggestions that the Midlands and the North would be better served by investment in regional transport links.

But, however tempting it might be to spend the budget of a few billions per year on something else, there is little more the Government could do to jeopardise the economic prospects of cities like Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, and Leeds than scrap a project which is so fundamental to their future economic development.

For the most important thing to understand about HS2 is that it is not just a railway. It is an economic regeneration project (and the most important economic regeneration project in Britain for decades) which is catalysing a whole host of other investments in its wake.

What holds Britain back today is not the connections from big cities to London, but poor connections between the other big cities. Services between cities like Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, and Newcastle are slow, unreliable, and overcrowded – and HS2 is absolutely integral to tackling this.

Remember your visit to Birmingham for the Party Conference in October? The cranes and building works were everywhere. Just outside the conference centre you saw the new headquarters of HSBC. Around the corner PwC is building their Midlands base, their biggest single investment outside London.

In Leeds, you have major new investment from Burberry and a whole South Bank regeneration for which HS2 is intrinsic. There are similar stories in Manchester and Liverpool too. And then ask the city leaders, from all political parties, how important HS2 is to triggering that investment, and unanimously they will tell you it is vital. Indeed, the project has no greater champion than Andy Street, Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands.

HS2 is about giving our great cities of the Midlands and the North the springboard to be the economic powerhouses of the future. Put harshly, without HS2, Britain has no strategy to grow our regional economies and no industrial strategy worthy of the name.

For HS2 trains won’t just reach those cities where the new line is being built. They will link into the rest of the network too, meaning that the services will reach 8 of the 10 biggest cities in Britain, reaching places like Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh that are far from the construction of the line itself.

That’s not to say the other transport investment people call for isn’t needed too. It is. And the Government is to be supported in the priority they are attaching to the Northern Powerhouse Rail project to improve east/west links across the north. But far from being an alternative to local transport investment, HS2 is a pre-requisite for it to be successful.

To take one specific example, the West Coast Mainline is presently jam-packed. Passenger numbers on the route have more than doubled since it was last upgraded just 15 years ago, and there is simply no space to add new trains whether for commuters and inter-city travellers or for more freight off the motorways and onto rail. Building HS2 will move the inter-city traffic onto the new line, freeing up capacity for vital local, regional, and commuter services, so passengers in places like Milton Keynes and Coventry will benefit from HS2 as it will improve their commutes into London and Birmingham respectively.

More widely still, the benefit of HS2 supply chain contracts are already being felt across the UK. Nus Ghani MP, the HS2 Minister, is hosting an event in Parliament next week to meet HS2 suppliers, and they come from far-and-wide, not just from the line of route.

Already more than 2000 companies have worked on HS2. There are archaeologists from Bristol, ecological experts from Cardiff, and earth-moving contractors from Buckinghamshire. There are already two suppliers in Northern Ireland, 25 in Scotland and 65 in the South West. HS2 is a truly national project with truly national benefits, and those benefits will only grow over the coming years.

For these businesses, the costs of cancelling HS2 right now would be enormous. Over 7,000 people are working on the project already, and that will become tens of thousands over the next couple of years, with 70 per cent of those jobs outside London. Cancelling it now would literally mean filling-in the freshly dug holes in Birmingham and Euston, and laying off all the apprentices working on site. Is that a serious proposition?

All things considered, HS2 is about joining Britain back together again, after a number of years when our divisions have been more prominent than our unity. It is essential for the UK, and even more vital still for the Midlands and the North which stand to gain the most.

The project is underway. The train has started its journey. Let’s makes sure it reaches its destination and that taxpayers wring every last ounce of benefit from it.

Andrew Jones: We are the party of business – and actions always speak louder than words

The Government has enacted a broad range of measures to help companies large and small grow, create jobs, and boost their local economies.

Andrew Jones is the Member of Parliament for Harrogate & Knaresborough and Conservative Vice-Chair for Business Engagement.

John McDonnell has repeatedly declared his aim in life to be “fomenting the overthrow of capitalism”, a system that has ensured 200 years of economic growth for our country and left millions better off – not just in the UK but across the globe – by promoting business, entrepreneurship, and personal responsibility.

In contrast, the Conservative Party is proud to champion businesses and entrepreneurs and proactively engage with business people. Because we believe that the country can only succeed when it works in partnership with business.

The Prime Minister is committed to ensuring that, post-Brexit, Britain will be even more pro-business than ever before. That is why today she has launched five new business advisory councils, made up of pioneering leaders from a diverse range sectors, who will advise her on maximising the opportunities for business in the UK after we leave the EU.

It is an initiative from business, for business. They will make sure the Government hears directly from those who are creating new jobs and economic growth, helping us guarantee that the United Kingdom remains one of the most dynamic and business-friendly economies in the world.

Ever since she became Prime Minister, Theresa May has been active in promoting the UK as open to business. Like me, she believes that when it comes to business, actions always speak louder than words.

That’s why, earlier this year, the Prime Minister led a trade delegation on a trip to three key African markets: Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa. It’s why, in August, she travelled with a large, multi-sector business delegation in order to strengthen the established links between the UK and China, which is expected to be one of the UK’s largest foreign investors by 2020.

It’s why, at the United Nations General Assembly in September, she made clear: this Conservative Government is dedicated to harnessing the enormous power of business as a partner in tackling some of the greatest social and economic challenges of our time.

That’s a message she repeated loudly and clearly in her speech to the Conservative Party Conference last month:

“Offering someone a job – creating opportunity for other people – is one of the most socially-responsible things you can do. It is an act of public service as noble as any other. To everyone who has done it – we are all in your debt. So, we in this party, we in this hall, we say thank you.

“And to all businesses – large and small – you may have heard that there is a four-letter word to describe what we Conservatives want to do to you. It has a single syllable. It is of Anglo-Saxon derivation. It ends in the letter ‘K’.

“Back business. Back them to create jobs and build prosperity. Back them to drive innovation and improve lives. Back them with the lowest Corporation Tax in the G20. Britain, under my Conservative Government, is open for business.”

A key plank of the Conservative Government’s commitment to business are the foundations we are laying through our modern Industrial Strategy – enabling businesses in every part of the country to create good jobs and bolster the earning power of people right across the UK. We have listened to business leaders, entrepreneurs, and start-ups – and have taken action to create the business environment that is most beneficial for them.

The Conservatives have always been the party of business: our philosophy centres on spreading opportunity and a belief in the power of enterprise and entrepreneurship as the means to harness talent and improve lives. As the Prime Minister says, we want to see people go as far in life as their talents and hard work can take them.

We believe that business and commerce are the cornerstones of every successful economy, and are the embodiment of our principles and values. We understand that it is business which drives wealth and innovation.

In his Autumn Budget Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, set out the Government’s plans to ensure we remain the best possible partner for businesses both large and small. As part of the new package of measures to support small- and medium-sized companies, the Government has committed an extra £30 million to ‘Be the Business’ – an initiative that will foster closer links between large corporations and smaller companies, to promote an environment of mutual support and allow bigger companies to mentor smaller ones so that they are able to realise their full potential and develop their management and leadership skills.

Jeremy Corbyn and McDonnell’s Labour Party will never understand that local businesses form the backbone of our communities – that they create jobs and pay the taxes which support our schools and hospitals. While this Conservative Government is supporting our high streets by cutting business rates by a third for two years – saving the shops we visit every day up to £8,000 each year – Labour openly call business the ‘enemy’ and advocate for extortionate taxes that will stop businesses up and down the country being able to create jobs, hire workers, and contribute to a thriving local economy.

The Chancellor also underlined in the Budget the way in which we are backing established firms and supporting start-ups as they grow by committing to a five-fold increase in the annual investment allowance for firms, taking it to £1 million. Not only are we helping all businesses, large and small, with their investments, we have also committed to supporting them with their costs by delivering the lowest corporation tax rate in the G20.

We are the party and government of business, because business is the embodiment of Conservative values; of enterprise, of freedom, of stability and of community. And the Prime Minister’s new business advisory councils will ensure that we continue to work closely together with industry to shape our economy and make the UK one of the most attractive countries in the world for those wanting to establish and grow a business.

George Freeman: There was much to cheer in the Budget. But now we need an inspiring programme for growth.

At the moment, we are treading water and appear to be relying on popular support for Brexit, and the threat of Corbyn, to keep us in office.

George Freeman MP is Chair of the Conservative Policy Forum and The Big Tent Ideas Festival, and is MP for Mid-Norfolk.

On Monday, the Chancellor announced that “austerity is coming to an end”. Politically, there was a lot to cheer in this Budget – some good news and headlines for struggling high streets, our crucial Universal Credit reform, NHS workers and the vast majority of constituents who rely on public services. Furthermore, there were many helpful retail pledges for colleagues in marginal seats. Given the Brexit divisions and infighting, we badly needed some good news.

But if we are going to end the biggest squeeze on disposable incomes since the war, the central question for our future is this: how can we get back to the 2.5-3 per cent growth that we enjoyed pre-Brexit? Before the EU Referendum, we were one of the fastest-growing economies in Europe and the G7. Now we’re one of the slowest-growing.

The Budget invites the public to judge us on different metrics – no longer on our commitment to balance the books (abandoned) or reduce the debt (still growing), but on our ability to “end austerity”. People will now need to feel tangible improvements and see how Brexit can be a catalyst for much higher growth and prosperity.

Because this Budget won’t be decided on the comment pages of broadsheets. It will be decided on the ground.  By parents chatting at the school gates. Families looking after their ageing relatives in care homes. Commuters stuck in traffic jams because the housing has come, but the infrastructure hasn’t. Or the millions standing on trains every morning who’ve shelled out £2,000 for a season ticket and feel ripped off.

I no longer advise the Prime Minister, but here’s what I’d say if I still did. We need to remind people that every public sector pound has to be earned before it is spent, and that we need a more inspiring programme of business-led growth to drive prosperity and opportunity.  This means some big changes.

First, accelerating our transition from a service economy to an innovation nation.  Innovation is key to our driving up productivity, prosperity, inward investment and exports. We won’t escape debt with growth at 1.5 per cent and low productivity.  We need a renaissance of enterprise and innovation.  Such buccaneers as James Dyson and Richard Branson have done more to transform this country’s prospects than any government department ever will.  We need to stop the business-bashing and promote entrepreneurship and innovation. While the UK is still a crucible of start-up entrepreneurship, the engine is not yet humming: we have too many start-ups that are never scaled up, too little of our innovation funded by the City and too little that is taken global by British companies. We need a new national mission. We must be the innovation nation.

Second, tangible access to new markets for our innovation.We can’t just do research.  We need to innovate, manufacture and trade.  If Brexit means anything, it surely means an opportunity to go global. But that can’t mean importing cheap food and cheap clothes from sweatshops. We need to be exporting our innovation. The UK should be using every tool possible to unlock access to the fastest emerging markets in Africa and Asia.

For 40 years our whole economy has been geared to our being a European services economy. Why don’t we make Brexit the moment to embrace a new global strategy for higher growth through exporting technology and innovation into emerging markets? If the opportunity is properly seized, we could use our Industrial Strategy and public sector innovation to make Britain a crucible of new technology scale up and financing through the City.

We could then use our aid budget and global soft power in emerging markets to grow our exports and trade links with the fastest growing economies. Why don’t we offer some of the fastest emerging countries where we have a strong historic links a deeper Aid, Trade and Security Development Partnership?

Third, harnessing the public sector as a test bed of innovation. We’ll never export our innovation if we’re not using it ourselves. Innovation can’t be just about making a lucky few in the City rich beyond their wildest dreams. In order for us to be a test bed for new technology, we need to put enterprise and innovation at the heart of the public sector.  If we want to lead the world in digital health, we won’t do it unless the NHS is already a pioneer. You can have as many digital health clusters in Shoreditch as you like. But if the NHS isn’t testing and buying it, we will never become the innovation nation we need to be. Building, financing and growing these little start-ups into serious businesses of scale. The problem of the austerity era was thinking that our problems could be solved by cutting things. Actually, the only way our problems can be solved is by growing things.

Fourth, empowering local leaders to innovate more. Innovation can’t be ordered from on high. It comes from people having the power to make decisions themselves. That’s why we need to embrace bolder economic localism. Let’s remember that our national economic performance is made up of hundreds of local economies, all of which need to be growing faster. Another five years of ever-tighter spending controls from the Treasury risks undermining local growth and innovation.  Instead of delaying essential local infrastructure holding our growth hubs back, why not let them raise infrastructure bonds in the international capital markets and embrace bold ideas like integrated track and train mutuals which invests users money into better services?

Fifth, a new model of Treasury incentives. Too often, Whitehall’s funding orthodoxy rewards failure.  If you deliver more for less in the public sector we give you…less!   And give more to those failing.  If you ran a business like that it would be bust.  And depressing to work in. It’s no wonder that public sector leaders are so dispirited.  Many are leaving.  We need them to stay.  So why don’t we send a signal to encourage them, be bold and embrace a new model of incentives-based funding which rewards successful local service leaders for delivering efficiency and productivity? We need a new approach based on a radical idea: if an area reduces the deficit quicker than Whitehall’s average we should let them keep 50 per cent of the savings to re-invest.  Why not the same on growth? If councils grow their tax base, why not let them keep 50 per cent for local services?

Our choice as a nation is clear. Do we timidly manage our decline? Or do we set out a bold plan a brighter future? At the moment we are treading water and appear to be relying on popular support for Brexit, and the threat of Jeremy Corbyn, to keep us in office.

For a majority of voters, keeping Corbyn out and delivering Brexit are not good enough answers.  We need to show voters that this is the path to something more inspiring.  We need to start setting out a bold vision for Conservatism in the twenty-first century.