mnmlist: Britain Needs More than HS2

We all remember the current spending review. Osborne told us Britain was bankrupt, Gordon Brown had got it all wrong, and the only way to cut the deficit was to cut and cut fast. Capital investment was in the firing line and project after project was halted.

We in Nottingham managed to squeak lines two and three of the tram past the government’s axe. £570m of investment will go ahead, mostly government money, set to bring jobs during the construction and drive the city forward in the long term. However the A453 was abruptly halted by the Tories and Lib Dems (the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire chamber of commerce and local Tories’ top priority) and electrification and improvements to the Midland Mainline seemed firmly off the agenda. We were not the only place to be left disappointed.

But times have changed; it’s Osborne who has been proved wrong, the economy has stagnated and the government has changed course. The £33bn set to be spent on High Speed Rail 2 is brilliant. Britain is set to move into the 21st Century; stimulating the economy for generations to come. It’s fitting that Andrew Adonis, Labour’s great driver on this, became the new chair of Progress in the same week HS2 becomes a reality.

OK, it’s going to take years, and yes it’ll cost a lot, but right-wing anti-investment deficit hawks never translate the age old business principles of the need to invest money to make money, to public spending. That’s what HS2 represents: jobs during its construction, stimulus to economic growth for years to come and a message globally that Britain is open for business – ready to compete with countries much further along the infrastructure road, such as Germany and China.

But I’m worried. I’m worried the government, after systematically cutting capital investment, abolishing RDAs, slashing the feed-in-tariff for solar panels, cutting home improvement money, axing BSF and much more, will believe it’s job done having restarted some stalled projects and pulled a massive rabbit out of the hat with the long term HS2. They’ll think the public is convinced they’ve done all they can to stimulate the economy, that it’s enough. Every time someone argues for why we need more investment here or need this capital project there, the government will say ‘well we’re already spending £33bn on HS2’.

High speed rail is great; but we need more to get growth back in the economy.

But when we ask for the Midland Mainline to be electrified, straightened and improved – costing £700m and with a great business case – we’ll be told: ‘well we’re already spending £33bn on HS2’. But that’s not till 2033 and we need jobs now and HS2 can’t solve all of Britain’s economic problems. We’re not the only area which will benefit from the Midland Mainline improvements. Northamptonshire, Leicester, Derby, Nottingham, Chesterfield and Sheffield are just some of the towns and cities which rely on the Midlands Mainline for service.

I’m sure everyone reading this article can think of an infrastructure project in their area which would create jobs and stimulate the economy. It’s all those projects, along with high speed rail, which Labour needs to continue to make the economic argument for. We cannot let the government get away with one big, shiny and exciting new train project in HS2 and shun all the smaller investments which will help stimulate the economy.

Jamie McMahon (Co-Opted Member, Nottinghamshire Fabian Society; Political Assistant to the Labour Group, Nottingham City Council)

This article was originally published on Progress Online, 16.01.12.