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Home » Comment: West Midlands Businesses Are Stepping Up To Build HS2

Comment: West Midlands Businesses Are Stepping Up To Build HS2

A new report released today confirms what we’ve long known at HS2 – the economic benefits of building Britain’s new railway are being felt now, right across the country.

When we crunch the numbers, it’s clear that West Midlands businesses are stepping up, in their hundreds, to build our new high-speed railway.

Since the project’s inception, we’ve awarded £1.7 billion worth of contracts to firms across the region which are providing everything from engineering works to machinery and cutting-edge technology.

That the West Midlands is attracting such levels of investment, the second highest of anywhere in the UK – and similar to that of Greater London, which boasts a population 50 per cent larger – is something to celebrate. After working hard to kick-start construction on Europe’s biggest infrastructure project, this region is reaping the rewards.

In my near 30-year supply chain career, I’ve seen first-hand the mettle, grit and ingenuity of the West Midlands’ business community.

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My time in the automotive industry at Land Rover, MG Rover, BMW and later, Jaguar Land Rover, proved that, even when brands decline or market conditions change, we can rally together to develop new manufacturing techniques, create high-skilled roles and launch world-leading products.

Moving into the world of defence, I saw the importance of transparency and trust between a business and its suppliers. Most recently, overseeing the UK’s vaccine supply programme proved that, even when the odds are stacked against us, this country has the talent at its fingertips to overcome unprecedented challenges.

That we’re partnering so extensively with local suppliers on HS2 should not come as a surprise. Over three quarters of the businesses we’re awarding contracts to are SMEs – firms with the agility to develop new products and ideas which are helping us to reduce the emissions involved in construction and build what will be Europe’s fastest railway.

The West Midlands is often lauded as one of the best places in the UK to start and grow a business and is also home to a wealth of well-established and world-leading construction, technology and manufacturing firms. This region has answered our call and we are benefiting from the wide range of know-how it has to offer.

For example, one supplier working on the network of viaducts that will bring high-speed trains into Birmingham’s new terminus station is Black Country-based Altrad RMD Kwikform. Prior to winning contracts with HS2, the business played its part in major infrastructure projects across the globe, including Crossrail, the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, Dubai Metro and Zhuhai Macao Road Bridge in Hong Kong.

It is this mix of industry-leading expertise, agility and innovation that is behind the region’s ongoing success. For most businesses, the covid-19 pandemic destroyed confidence.

Lockdowns, market turbulence and dwindling order books left many firms fearing for the future and those that did manage to stay afloat largely held back on unnecessary financial outlays. The size and longevity of HS2 means our contract awards are a huge boost to suppliers – many of the firms we’re working with are now investing in new plant and machinery, upskilling their staff and hiring new employees from the local community.

What’s so heartening is the geographical spread of partners – from Birmingham to Bromsgrove, Walsall to Worcestershire and Tamworth to Telford, building HS2 really is a region-wide endeavour – spreading the benefits of the project to towns and cities both on and off the line of route.

The Government’s recent announcement, confirming that elements of the HS2 programme will be re-phased, reinforces the need for us to work collaboratively with the supply chain, ensuring these changes are comprehensively communicated so our partners can adapt accordingly.

Ultimately, the Government’s continued commitment to building a high-speed network, from Euston to Manchester, means that billions of pounds of HS2 contracts will be available for many years to come. And being at the very centre of the HS2 network, I’m confident the West Midlands will continue to thrive.

Whether you’re sourcing vaccines, vehicle parts or viaducts, for me, the principles of supply chain management remain the same. Build a robust and resilient base of partners, work alongside them to strive for excellence and deliver value for money.

In the challenging economic times we find ourselves in, driven by high inflation and global pressures such as the war in Ukraine, frank and open conversations with our partners are essential if we’re to secure the best possible results, on time and within our budget.

Years before the first high-speed trains run, I am proud to see a positive legacy already being built across the West Midlands. Yes, HS2 will be transformative for travellers, of course it will spark huge regeneration, but right here, right now, it is bringing work, challenge and opportunity to businesses across our region.

These contracts are bringing jobs, skills and wages to our communities and, most important of all, we are working together, both big companies and small, to deliver something truly innovative.

With two decades of construction ahead before the full network is complete, I hope local businesses persist in seizing the opportunities available to them and continue to play such a vital role as we work to deliver the best railway in the best way.

Ruth Todd is chief commercial officer at HS2