Businesses and regional bodies in South Yorkshire say improved connectivity will drive productivity growth across much of the UK and help to close the gap between the best and worst performing regions, according to a new study published today by HS2 Ltd.
Drawing on evidence from over 100 employers, local authorities and universities, HS2: Getting the best out of Britain, highlights the regional strengths of highly skilled manufacturing clusters, universities and research centres, and cutting edge technology entrepreneurs, but warns that more needs to be done to draw them together and realise their full potential in the modern economy.
David Higgins, Chairman of HS2 Ltd said:
“This report is the evidence that HS2 will boost productivity in the North and Midlands. This is a once in a generation opportunity to join up and amplify the many centres of excellence around the country, as we prepare to exit the European Union.
“By improving the connectivity between our major population centres HS2 will give businesses access to the skills, labour and services they need to change the economic geography of the country.”
The report shows that world-leading skills and research in the Midlands and the North can match that of London and the South East. Cities and regions in the Midlands and North account for 32% of the UK’s research staff working in universities with high quality research, compared to 35% in London and the South East, and high quality universities produce thousands of graduates every year.
But as it gears up for the arrival of HS2, Sheffield City Region is forging ahead with plans to make it the place to do business in the North. When it launched its Growth Plan in 2014, the region set itself a target to grow its existing supply chain of businesses and to encourage new start-ups. With strengths in designing and delivering solutions to a range of digital, materials and engineering challenges, the region is already well-placed to benefit from new opportunities, but it can achieve more.
In South Yorkshire productivity is around 83% of the UK average. Achieving Sheffield City Region’s ambition to add £3bn to the regional economy and deliver approximately 30,000 highly skilled occupations to create a more prosperous economy will require raising productivity.
HS2 will make it easier for the region to realise their full potential, as it puts an end to the poor connectivity between the Midlands and the North.
Chris Grayling MP, Secretary of State for Transport said:
“This study clearly shows transport investment is crucial to a strong and resilient economy. That’s why we are investing in all forms of transport including the biggest rail modernisation programme for over a century to improve services for passengers – providing faster and better trains with more seats.
“As Britain’s new railway, HS2 will deliver vital links between some of our country’s biggest cities, driving economic growth and productivity and helping to deliver the Government’s Industrial Strategy.
“By bringing our major cities, regions and communities closer together we are encouraging business and innovation and building a Britain that is fit for the future with a stronger economy and fairer society.”
There’s a growing realisation that for local economies to truly thrive we must improve access to the people, skills, jobs, suppliers, new markets and financial institutions and investors that will enable businesses to grow. The transport network around London has given it easy access to these essential ingredients, allowing it to succeed in the modern economy, and the government has committed to delivering a transport system for the Midlands and the North which can rival that success.
It may be years before the first train arrives, but the opportunities afforded by new high-speed rail links are now firmly at the heart of business and economic planning in Sheffield City Region.
Richard Wright, Executive Director, Sheffield Chamber of Commerce & Industry said:
“Sheffield, and the region around it, has a strong tradition as suppliers of products to manufacturers in other parts of the country, who produce export goods that the country relies on heavily. We are being held back by poor rail connectivity and capacity on routes to London, Leeds and Manchester in particular. HS2, properly integrated with the plans of Transport for the North helps us address those issues.”
As the new backbone to the UK’s rail network, HS2 will connect eight of Britain’s ten biggest cities. Alongside plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail, it will slash journey times between regions in the Midlands and North, connecting people to a wider pool of better-paid jobs, and suppliers to businesses, on a scale never seen before.
South Yorkshire is well placed to take advantage of all that HS2 has to offer and with plans afoot to invest in improving the region’s local transport infrastructure, nearly two million people across the region will benefit from opportunities which will help the region to flourish.
The region already creates a breadth of talent through its well established universities, who have been equally quick to recognise that improved connectivity is key boosting the region’s economic potential.
Professor Chris Husbands, Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, said:
“Improving connectivity is a key way to boost productivity as a city region, helping to deliver new jobs and investment which would benefit the wider area. Along with improved transport links within the city region and across the rest of the north, HS2 is a vital part of the solution. We should take full advantage of the considerable new opportunities it will bring.”
HS2 will serve around 30m people and directly serve 25 stations, joining up the dots between where we are now, and where we could get to as a country – a combination of more capacity and better connectivity will improve accessibility, and, therefore, productivity in the Midlands and the North – at the same time as easing the pressure on London.