As someone who is an occasional commuter on High Speed One – when I miss the 710am Cannon Street – it is good to see this week, the Tories have finally announced their own scheme. Unfortunately the wasted years of uncertainty means work won’t begin until 2017 at the earliest.
The best that can be said of these delays is that it’s ‘better late than never’, especially for our economy which is on the brink of a triple-dip recession and which needed the investment months ago. But now that the government is committed to this infrastructure project, we must seize the opportunity and help the future career development of tens of thousands of young people.
It will be a contentious build as many on the proposed route will campaign to oppose; as they did in Kent for HS1 in the early 1990s; which left KCC in Labour and Lib Dem hands for the first time in its history.
Britain has almost one million young people unemployed and the number out of work for more than 12 months has doubled in the last year. In the developed world, only Greece and Spain are doing worse.
The economy has been flatlining for two years but the building of HS2 is a fantastic opportunity to give a real boost to young people’s future prospects now. It is a chance to create a new generation of skilled British workers rather than waste the talent of those growing up wondering if they will ever get a decent job.
Experts say that for every £1 million of government spending projects like HS2, a minimum of one apprenticeship should be created. When money is tight and we are spending £33 billion, this really shouldn’t be too much to ask.
Labour’s Youth Task Force is taking this challenge head on - examining the best ways of tackling the problem of youth unemployment by drawing on best practice across the country. For example, we would insist that when large firms win government contracts for projects like HS2 they must put high-quality apprenticeship schemes in place and commit to training young people for high-skilled jobs.
I met a young apprentice yesterday with Ed Balls called Harriet who works for Kent Fine Foods – a microbusiness which is growing and hiring. We need to do more to encourage vocational and apprenticeships to not only big business but also allowing the small business to grow. Government has a part to play in getting the advice and supporting small business start-ups.
It’s not enough to just build a new route between London and the North; we need to be investing in the jobs of the future; encouraging small business start-ups and giving them advice on hiring of staff; and yes also high skilled manufacturing and the Green collar workforce which could differentiate Kent from other areas of the country as we saw with the recent solar investment on Romney. Young people in Chatham, Snodland or Aylesford might not want to move across the county to where the new train lines are being built so we need to give all young people a route to their futures and that starts in local schools and colleges.
It is the reason why I am so frustrated by the snail like pace on infrastructure (just tell us where you stand and stop dithering) and the ostensibly unprincipled objection to renewable technologies by a number of Kent MPs. The loss of Vestas on Sheppey – a site owned by Medway Ports – could have created opportunities for young people across Kent. Instead Tory positioning on this issue has contributed to a loss of confidence in business investment. This is small beer compared to the EU referendum and its impact on investment decisions.
Labour would offer school students quality vocational courses that would lead to a new gold standard qualification called a Technical Baccalaureate. We would also create a national application system for young people who want to find an apprenticeship that would work just the same as the UCAS system does for those applying to university.
The time has come to end the divide that says university is always best and vocational education is only second-best. Kick-starting our economy and giving young people a chance is not going to be easy in these tough times but Britain needs these One Nation Labour policies so that we can ensure everyone plays their part and that we use the talents of every young person in the country.