UK firms in line for HS2 boon, Minister insists

THE Transport Secretary insists British firms will benefit from “all aspects” of the £33bn high-speed rail project as preparatory work gets underway in the coming years.

Patrick McLoughlin told MPs he has recently visited the north of England to meet with businesses pressing to win some of the huge construction and maintenance contracts which will be on offer once work starts on HS2 in 2017.

The Department for Transport came under fire in 2011 after awarding its last major contract – to provide 1,200 carriages for London’s Thameslink service – to German giant Siemens, ahead of Bombardier, which has a large plant in Derby.

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Coalition Ministers blamed the way the previous Labour government had drawn up that project, and have since expressed their desire that UK firms be given a better prospect of winning contracts on future schemes such as Crossrail and HS2.

However, they remain bound by EU competition laws which prevent member states from unfairly favouring domestic firms over foreign competitors when making procurement decisions.

Nonetheless, speaking in the Commons, Keighley MP Kris Hopkins asked the Transport Secretary to “ensure the financial benefits flowing from the pre-construction phase (of HS2) will be felt along the length of the line – particularly among firms in West Yorkshire, which are ready, willing and very able to assist”.

Mr McLoughlin said: “Last week I made a trip to the North East, talking to a number of companies.... I am aware many companies up there and in other places along the route are interested in all phases of HS2.

“I can assure (Mr Hopkins) that we will be looking at ways to involve British business in all aspects of the HS2 programme.”

All parties are keen to maximise the employment benefits of HS2, which will be one of the largest construction projects undertaken in the UK in decades.

Labour wants HS2 to be used to create 33,000 apprenticeships over its 20-year construction – one for every £10,000 spent.