Call for British firms to be given preference for high speed rail contracts

A leading industrialist has called for UK industry to given a mandatory role in the production of the next generation of Britain's high-speed trains.

Sir Andrew Cook, the chairman of William Cook Holdings, has called for high levels of UK content to be a contractual requirement for the creation of rail stock.

In voicing his support for the HS2 project, Sir Andrew said considerable improvements could be made to the project and in a manner which benefited UK industry.

Sir Andrew made the comments at the High Speed Rail Industry Leaders’ reception in Parliament, which was hosted by HS2 minister Nusrat Ghani.

The business leader and one time Tory party donor said continual usage of trains produced by foreign-owned businesses was ultimately result in the “eclipse of UK rail engineering”.

Quoting Ernest Bevin, when speaking of the advent of the atom bomb as Foreign Secretary in 1948, he said “We’ve got to have this thing, and it’s got to have the Union Jack on it”.

“If Britain wants to have a UK supply chain for rail, and for HS2 specifically, it needs orders.

“The present situation where complete brand-new trains from Japan, Switzerland and Spain quite literally trundle past my Leeds factory, on lorries, devoid of any material UK content, is unacceptable and will lead to the eclipse of UK rail engineering industry.

Sir Andrew Cook for a business feature on William Cook steelworks in Sheffield. Picture Scott Merrylees

“Department of Transport weakness in failing to insist on significant UK content is the cause of this.

“It is reasonable to expect UK taxpayers’ money to be spent in the UK, if possible. I have spent £15m of my own money converting a steel foundry into a bogie frame and coupler manufacturing plant; it is state of the art and it needs orders if it is to continue.”

In his speech, Sir Andrew suggested a number of major improvements that could be made to HS2 in London and Sheffield and at a cost equivalent to funding the National Health Service for one year, a figure which currently stands at £124.7bn for the 2017-2018 period.

“The cost would be forgotten within a couple of years,” he said.

“Within five, people start saying, ‘Why did we wait so long? This is good.’

“Within 10, it is part of daily life and taken for granted.”

HS2 will link Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester with the capital with ultra-fast rail routes.

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “We are committed to developing the skills the UK needs to be a global competitor in high speed rail.

Sir Andrew Cook for a business feature on William Cook steelworks in Sheffield. Picture Scott Merrylees

“Around 2,000 UK companies have already been awarded contracts, and we are currently in discussions with potential bidders for the contract for High Speed 2 trains.”

HS2 Ltd, the publically owned delivery company for the HS2 project, has invited five foreign-owned companies to tender for the £2.75bn trains contract.

These companies are Alstom Transport, Bombardier Transportation UK Ltd in a joint venture partnership with Hitachi Rail Europe, Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF), Patentes Talgo and Siemens PLC.

William Cook Rail, based at Leeds, designs and manufactures components for blue chip rail customers all over the world.

Customers include Alstom, Bombardier and Siemens.