Roger Marsh: Northern rail college promises bonanza

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ALL three major political parties have staked a claim, in the past fortnight, to be the party most likely to deliver a re-balanced UK economy and strengthened Northern economy. If the coalition Government is true to its vision, then the decision on the location of the High Speed Rail College provides an excellent early opportunity for them to deliver on its promises.

Based in Doncaster, the Centre for Rail Engineering and Technical Excellence (Create) will be an industry-led elite establishment at the centre of national and international innovation and enterprise, situated in the heartland of the British rail industry and the rejuvenated northern economy. It aligns perfectly with the Government’s long-term objectives and ambitions for the future of the North.

The Yorkshire and Humber region has the supply-side potential, and an engineering base and heritage. Industry leaders have been clear; there is already an engineering skills gap which is set to grow. This has to be addressed if we want to ensure that the benefits of HS2 and any future infrastructure investment is fully realised throughout the UK.

Leading rail, engineering and manufacturing firms believe Create will be a game changer for the North. Government wants to reduce dependency on the public sector. It will generate thousands of additional jobs for world leading engineering firms. Government wants to increase exports and create additional private sector jobs. Yorkshire is home to international firms such as Hitachi Rail, Wabtec, DB Schenker, Volker Rail and Tata who already have skills gaps they need to fill. Government wants to rebalance the economy. After 15 cohorts have passed through the new college, an extra £150m of economic value will have been generated every year.

The Government’s agenda for skills and technology, and its commitment to infrastructure investment, have set a clear and long-term route to the realisation of future economic prosperity for the UK. This region can create the skills UK plc needs for a successful and long term economic recovery. At the heart of this are leading edge skills in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects that can be applied to future infrastructure works and innovations.

The Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT) is widely recognised as the world’s leading engineering university. There is no reason why we cannot, over a number of years, strive to have a similar institution recognised as producing the best engineers in the world.

I believe that Create represents excellent value for money – the proposed site will be gifted to the project at a value of £1.5m and the site is located in a premier business area where industry leaders are already based. There could be no better geographical fusion between education and industry. The site also offers considerable room to grow, allowing the college to expand further in the future.

Prestigious, world-leading universities are backing the bid and ready to provide high level skills training. The Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and the Rail Innovation and Technology Centre at the University of Sheffield are examples of how universities in the region are at the forefront of pioneering engineering research and innovation, and it is this best practice that would be brought to Yorkshire’s High Speed Rail College.

Moreover, our universities have strong links with industry. The Sheffield Engineering Gateway established long term partnerships with companies while the Engineering Research and Innovation Service (ERIS) at the University of Leeds consists of a specialist team whose role is to promote and support engineering knowledge exchange with industry and other external organisations.

Over the last 10 years, the North’s share of the UK’s economic output has fallen by more than five per cent. We have to reverse that trend. We believe that Government promises about re-balancing the North and sharing the benefits of high-speed rail have to be matched by a commitment to support innovative projects designed to harness and build upon the assets we have.

Create will provide a centre of excellence for the next generation of world-class engineers, and what better place to accommodate these engineers than in the North where the potential to rebalance the economy and expand UK plc is greatest?

• Roger Marsh is chairman of the Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership and a member of the HS2 Growth Task Force.