The government will listen to offers of foreign investment to build parts of High Speed 2 including stations, transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin told the Construction News Summit today.
Mr McLoughlin was asked by host Andrew Neil to clarify whether Chinese investment or contracting expertise was being sought when the chancellor launched HS2 contracts on a visit to China in September.
The transport secretary said: “We want HS2 to attract British companies… but if an offer was made to build [for example] the new station at Old Oak Common… if any pension company says they will deliver [a part of HS2] then I will listen.”
Chinese investment has been confirmed on multiple projects in recent months including the new nuclear plant planned by EDF and its Chinese partner China General Nuclear Corporation at Hinkley Point C.
Mr McLoughlin would not confirm that the Department for Transport’s capital budget was protected in this month’s spending review, but insisted the Roads Investment Strategy and Network Rail’s £38bn spending plans would not be slashed.
“The RIS will be protected. At Network Rail we have to get good value, that’s why Peter Hendy has been appointed [to conduct his review], but we have had to put some work on hold for a while.
“Working on capital projects is important to us. The DfT is still in negotiations [on its budget being protected] but we will stick by the £38bn for Network Rail… but there are many ways to get that investment.”
The transport secretary added that driverless cars were “on their way” with technology set to change the construction landscape and declined to give a timescale on construction of Crossrail 2.
He said: “You don’t set up a National Infrastructure Commission and then start second guessing the work they will do.”
Mr McLoughlin hit out at diversity rates in the industry, citing Network Rail’s male-dominated workforce.
“Why is it that in 2015, men still make up over 90 per cent of airline pilots and train drivers in this country, 90 per cent of transport and logistics managers, and over 80 per cent of Network Rail staff?
“Well, women still complain of unequal pay… of a boys’ club culture in the workplace and discrimination over issues like childcare and maternity leave.
“Gradually we’re changing that. Crossrail is being built by a much more diverse workforce. But the longer-term challenge is to change the way we promote the industry. We need to explain the social value of what we do.”
He added: “It’s not just about fairness and equality of opportunity. It’s about making industry better.”
On the skills challenge faced by the industry, Mr McLoughlin said the appointment of Crossrail chairman Terry Morgan to develop a transport skills strategy would help to deliver “30,000 new rail and road apprenticeships in this parliament”.
He called for a “culture change” among suppliers, to focus on future need and “not just the job in hand”.
“We believe it’s better to invest in home-grown talent now, rather than wait and outsource work to international consultants later,” he said.