“Essential to spreading prosperity”: An open letter from the rail industry on the importance of HS2

A field, along the route of HS2. Image: Getty.

Last Friday Friday, a coalition of executives from the rail and construction industries, organised by the Rail Industry Association, sent the following open letter to the government regarding the future of the HS2 rail link.

The Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP

Prime Minister, First Lord of the Treasury and Minister for the Civil Service

10 Downing Street

London

SW1P 4DR 

 

17 January 2020

Re: The importance of HS2 to Britain’s future prosperity

Dear Prime Minister, 

We are writing to you as senior leaders in the British rail and construction sectors to express our deep alarm at mounting recent media reports that put into doubt the future of HS2.  

We want to take this opportunity to reiterate not only the devastating impact any curtailment of HS2 would have on our industry, but the detrimental effect cancellation would have on UK Plc more widely in terms of jobs, manufacturing, investment and export potential. To date, we have very much welcomed the Government’s commitment to increased infrastructure spending and investment. However, by putting a project of such national importance at risk, future infrastructure plans will also be threatened, as will the Government’s desire to level up the UK economy. 

HS2 is essential to joining up the UK and spreading prosperity throughout the country. Latest figures show that the project is already supporting approximately 10,000 jobs, is set to support 15,000 jobs by year end and 30,000 jobs at peak construction and train building activity, as well as 2,000 apprentices. Were HS2 to be cancelled, job losses would be calamitous, as would the missed opportunity to train and upskill the next generation of young people who will deliver the future infrastructure and rolling stock projects that the Government is ambitious to complete.  


As the Government reaches its decision, it also needs to be mindful of the fact that the HS2 project is well underway. Indeed, it has been going for more than 10 years and contracts worth billions have been signed. The cancellation of a Government project so far progressed would be unprecedented in the history of British construction.  Should this happen, the industry will have to include additional consideration for risk when pricing for future contracts, to bear in mind the risk of the Government cancelling future projects in the middle of delivery. To put it as clearly as possible, future infrastructure projects will cost the Government more, should HS2 be cancelled at this stage. 

Finally, we often hear talk of replacing HS2 with other projects elsewhere. To be clear, there is no other ‘shovel ready’ project in the UK of a remotely comparable size. The Government’s commitment to infrastructure projects in the North of England is laudable, but these projects are many years behind HS2 in terms of readiness to begin work and most, like Northern Powerhouse Rail, require HS2 to be delivered to realise their full benefits. A hiatus of this duration in Government investment, at this time, would have a devastating impact on jobs in the sector and risk delaying the infrastructure revolution by a decade.

The project is essential, and irreplaceable, to the Government’s goal of fixing the north-south divide which has beset Britain for generations. We urge you to reach a final conclusion as quickly as possible. We urge you to save the jobs of 10,000 people already employed on the project. We urge you to get HS2 done.

Yours sincerely,

David Hughes, CEO, ABB Ltd     

David Barwell, Chief Executive, UK & Ireland, AECOM

Nick Crossfield, CEO, Alstom UK & Ireland

Mark Cowlard, CEO, Arcadis UK and Ireland          

 

Matthew Behan CEO, Barhale   

Matt Byrne, President, UK, Bombardier Transportation

Vincent Avrillon, Managing Director, Bouygues

Jean-Pierre Bertrand, CEO, Colas Rail Ltd               

Jim Brewin, UK Country Lead, Hitachi Rail

Tim Gray, Managing Director, Hitachi Information Control Systems Europe Ltd

Dyan Crowther, CEO, HS1 

Donald Morrison, Senior Vice President and General Manager for People & Places Solutions, Europe, Middle East & Africa, Jacobs

Paul Goodhand, Managing Director, Knorr-Bremse Rail Systems (UK) Limited

Mike Haigh, Executive Chair, Mott MacDonald Ltd

John Murphy, CEO, J Murphy & Sons Ltd

Kathryn Nichols, CEO, Nichols Group

Wayne Peacock, Managing Director Pandrol UK Ltd

Mike Hughes, Zone President, UK & Ireland, Schneider Electric       

John Whitehurst, Managing Director, Transport, Serco

William Wilson, CEO, Siemens Mobility Ltd

Raj Sinha, Managing Director, SSE Enterprise Rail

Nick Salt, CEO, SYSTRA Limited

Frank McKay, CEO, telent

Shaun Jones, Vice President, Thales GTS

Noel Travers, Managing Director, Unipart Rail and Unipart Manufacturing Group

Steve Cocliff, Managing Director, VolkerRail Group

Mark Naysmith, UK CEO, WSP   

Tim Jones & James Fox, Managing Director & Commercial Director, 3Squared Ltd

Pino De Rosa, Managing Director, Bridgeway Consulting Ltd             

Noel Dolphin, Managing Director, Furrer+Frey    

Malcolm Wilson, Managing Director, IPEX Consulting Limited           

Paul McSharry, Managing Director, Kilborn Consulting Limited

Richard Kelly, Managing Director, Loram Ltd        

Paul Priestman, Chairman and Designer, Priestman Goode Ltd

Rui Costa, Managing Director, SOMAFEL

Paul Costello, Managing Director, Wentworth House Rail Systems Limited     

Munir Patel, Managing Director, XRAIL Group

David Tonkin & Darren Caplan, Chairman & Chief Executive, Railway Industry Association         

Simon Babes, SME Group Chair, Railway Industry Association            

Mike Hulme & Justin Moss, Co-Chairs, Northern Rail Industry Leaders            

Professor Clive Roberts, Head of School of Engineering and Director, Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education, University of Birmingham          

 

 

Cc:          Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport

                Sajid Javid, Chancellor of the Exchequer

                Andrea Leadsom, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

                Rishi Sunak, Chief Secretary to the Treasury

                Douglas Oakervee, Chair, independent review of HS2

 
 
 
 

To see how a city embraces remote work, look to Helsinki

A deeply rooted culture of trust is crucial to the success of remote work. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

When I speak to Anssi Salminen, an account manager who lives an hour outside Helsinki, he’s working from a wooden platform on the edge of a Finnish lake. With a blanket laid out and his laptop set up, the sun low in the sky, Anssi’s remote work arrangement seems blissful. 

“I spend around half of my time working somewhere else other than the office,” he says. “I can work from home, or on the go, and I also travel to the Netherlands once a month and work from there.

“The emphasis in my work has always been that it doesn’t matter when or where I work, as long as I get things done.”

For many people around the world, the shift to remote work was sudden, sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. Finland, however, is finding the transition much less significant. Before Covid-19, the Nordic nation already displayed impressive levels of remote working, with 14.1% of its workforce reporting usually working from home. Only the Netherlands has a comparable percentage of remote workers, while the UK lagged behind at 4.7%, and the US’s remote workforce lingered at around 3.6%

Anssi works for one of many Helsinki-based companies that offers its employees flexible policies around when and where they work. That arrangement is in part due to the Finnish capital’s thriving start-up scene. In spite of being a relatively small city by global standards it is home to over 500 technology start-ups. These companies are leading the way when it comes to keeping employees connected wherever they choose to work.

“Our company has a completely location-free working policy,” says Kasper Pöyry, the CEO of Helsinki-headquartered software company Gapps. “All meetings are made available for online participants and facilitated accordingly. Some employees have worked extensively from abroad on a working holiday, whilst others prefer the comfort and social aspects of the well-stocked office. Whatever works for our employees is what works for the company.”

Like Gapps, many Helsinki-based firms are deeply preoccupied with providing the necessary technology to attract talent in a vast and sparsely populated country. Finland has only 15 inhabitants per square kilometre, and companies understand that in order to compose teams of specialised expertise, they may have to seek talent outside of the city. Local governments take a similarly proactive stance toward technological access, and Helsinki offers free, unrestricted, high-speed Wi-Fi from city-wide hotspots, while the country as a whole boasts some of the best coverage in Europe. 

But encouraging remote work isn’t just about optimising the potential of Finland’s workforce – companies in Helsinki also recognise that flexibility has clear benefits for both staff and employees. 

“The idea of a good work-life balance is ingrained in Finnish culture,” says Johannes Anttila, a consultant at organisational think tank Demos Helsinki. “It goes back to our rich history of social dialogue between labour unions and employers, but also to an interest in delineating the rules of working life and pushing towards people being able to enjoy their private life. Helsinki has been named the best city in the world for work-life balance, and I think that this underlies a lot of the mentality around remote work.” 

For Peter Seenan, the extent to which Helsinki residents value their free time and prioritise a work-life balance prompted his move to the city ten years ago. He now works for Finnair, and points to Finland’s summer cottages as an example of how important taking time to switch off is for people in the country. These rural residences, where city residents regularly uproot to enjoy the Nordic countryside, are so embedded in Finnish life that the country boasts around 1.8 million of them for its 5.5 million residents

“Flexible and remote work are very important to me because it means that I don’t feel like I’m getting stuck in a routine that I can’t control easily,” he says. “When I’m working outside of the office I’ll go down to my local sauna and go ice swimming during the working day, typically at lunchtime or mid-morning, and I’ll feel rejuvenated afterwards… In winter time especially, flexibility is important because it makes it easier to go outside during daylight hours. It’s certainly beneficial for my physical and mental health, and as a result my productivity improves.”

The relaxed attitude to working location seems to pay off – Finland is regularly named the happiest country in the world, scoring highly on measures such as how often its residents exercise and how much leisure time they enjoy. With large swathes of unspoiled countryside and a national obsession with the outdoors, sustainability is at the forefront of its inhabitants’ minds, leading to high levels of support for measures to limit commuting. In January, Finland passed a new Working Hours Act, the goal of which was to help better coordinate employee’s work and leisure time. Central to this is cementing in law that employees can independently decide how, when, and where they work.

Yet enacting the new ruling is not as simple as just sending employees home with their laptops. For Kirsimarja Blomqvist, a professor of knowledge management at LUT University, perhaps the most fundamental feature that remote work relies upon is a deeply rooted culture of trust, which Helsinki’s residents speak of with pride. The anecdotal evidence is backed up by data which suggests that Finland boasts one of the highest levels of trust and social cohesion in Europe, and equality and transparency have always been key cornerstones of political thought in the country.

“Trust is part of a national culture in Finland – it’s important and people value it highly,” she explains. “There’s good job independence, and people are valued in terms of what they do, not how many hours they work for. Organisations tend to be non-hierarchical, and there is a rich history of cooperation between trade unions, employers, and employees to set up innovative working practices and make workers feel trusted and valued. 

“It’s now important that we ensure that this trust can continue to be built over technology, when workers might have been more used to building it face-to-face.”

As companies begin to look hopefully toward a post-Covid future, the complexities of remote work are apparent. Yet amid issues of privacy, presenteeism, and social isolation, the Helsinki model demonstrates the potential benefits of a distanced working world. The adjustment to remote work, if continued after the crisis, offers a chance to improve companies’ geographical diversity and for employers to demonstrate trust in their workforce. On these issues, Blomqvist believes other cities and employers can learn a lot from Helsinki.

“People are now beginning to return to their workplaces, but even as they do they are starting to consider the crisis as a jumping point to an even more remote future,” she says. “The coronavirus pandemic has been an eye-opener, and people are now interested in learning from Finland’s good practices… We are able to see the opportunity, and the rapid transition to remote work will allow other countries to do the same.”

Katie Bishop is a freelance writer based in Oxford.