Lord Adonis, who earlier this month made headlines when he resigned the Labour whip in order to take up his new post, pioneered the plan for HS2 as Secretary of State for Transport under Gordon Brown. (He sits on its board as a Non-Executive Director).
Lord Adonis said the £40+ billion pound project had raised controversy among a ‘vocal few’, but had been supported by 9 in 10 MPs. "The diggers will start in 2017," he told the members-only gathering. The proposed high-speed rail would cut 39 minutes from the London-Birmingham journey—"not an insignificant amount"—and would triple the existing capacity. The new train would improve UK connectivity immeasurably, argued Lord Adonis: London and Birmingham would benefit directly but so would cities and towns beyond the new network, such as Liverpool and Preston. By linking with a Crossrail branch in Old Oak Common, west London, HS2 would speed up journeys in London as well. The investment in infrastructure would boost businesses across the UK, Lord Adonis said—as would the development of Crossrail 2, which he also supported.
Infrastructure also included digital access—an area in which the UK performed better than the majority of its European neighbours, Lord Adonis said. Around 12 million adults, though, were still digitally illiterate, posing a challenge for Britain’s employers, who sought workers with digital skills. He urged educationalists to meet this challenge as a means to combat unemployment.
Business recognised the importance of better infrastructure, Lord Adonis said, and most big infrastructure projects—like HS2—attracted private as well as government funding. This was important, he maintained, as it avoided bottle-necks and delays caused by party-political factionalism. He supported the proposal, put forth in Legatum Institute Fellow Dag Detter’s book, The Public Wealth of Nations, that the Government draw up a register of its assets—both in terms of land and buildings. Better management, or outright sale, of these assets could save the Treasury billions—which could then be invested in infrastructure.
The discussion was chaired by Cristina Odone, Director of Communications at the Legatum Institute.