Commenting on the HS2 scheme at the Conservative Party conference earlier this week, the Prime Minister praised the initiative, saying that it will "bring the north and the south together in our national endeavour." However, it seems that there is growing scepticism surrounding the latest news of Conservative reforms, in particular the viability of HS2, and the privatisation of the Royal Mail. That, amongst other recent political revelations, has provided the backdrop for this year’s Conservative Party conference.
Such reforms are bound to raise many questions about the Conservative administration, and spark political debate as to whether the electorate made the right decision in 2010. But it is equally important to be clear on the facts that surround these reforms and what the implications of such reforms will carry with them.
As part of the current government’s shared mandate written in 2010, there was a huge emphasis surrounding the idea of a 'Big Society.' The idea of a society where power is moved away from the old institutions such as Whitehall and placed in the hands of local people living in local communities. David Cameron also claimed that this agenda can only be met through a fair, open, and transparent government. Whilst I believe that the reforms that are coming through are of good taste, there needs to be an active conscience on the government’s part, ensuring that the public is always updated on what the implications of such reforms are set to do, instead of leaving it to guesswork. It is time that we put government reforms under the spotlight.
Regardless of political affiliation, it is common sense that a healthy economy needs a sustainable, and an enduring infrastructure. Network Rail has predicted a 30% increase in demand in the West Coast Main Line by the mid 2020's. Without matching infrastructure to meet the demands of the public, the chances of developing a healthy economy not only in parts of the country but throughout the whole country are uncertain.
In this sense, HS2 can be viewed as one of the major contributors towards our fight to stabilise our economy, and in doing so tackling unemployment, putting a stronger emphasis on localism, and making way for a society that depends on a strong and effective transport system to enable Britain to be truly 'open for business.'
On the flip-side, the controversy surrounding the HS2 plan comes in the form of protecting England's green spaces, and the timing of these reforms. At face value, HS2 is a good plan, but when placed in the wider context of today's Britain, that's when the controversy starts to emerge.
People are likely to question the timing of the HS2 scheme, and will claim that whilst there are still high levels of unemployment and economic uncertainty, with a society encompassed by austerity, that building a new train line won’t deal with any of our fundamental economic problems.
Whilst there is not enough room for complacency, it is evident that the under a Conservative government Britain is becoming more prosperous. Our unemployment rate has fallen by 0.7% since February, the reported crime rate has fallen by 3.7 million offences since March 2012, and the number of workless households has fallen by 132,000 since April 2012. This all shows that Britain is clearly on the road to recovery, but much work continues, and much more work needs to be done.
Although the Conservative government has cut the deficit by a third, the national unemployment rate remains at 7.7%. This calls out for an effective and well-planned economic policy that will draw Britain out of austerity.
This starts with an economy supported by a strong infrastructure. An infrastructure that whilst meeting the needs of people travelling around the country, can have a real social impact.
In a nation of social mobility and integration, there is a growing need for national connectivity. The Conservative administration is basing their argument for the HS2 scheme on their promise of introducing apprenticeships on the line’s route, taking freight off our roads in order to free up our highways, and employing thousands of people across the country to operate the line- tackling unemployment and laying the seeds for economic regeneration and prosperity.
So the debate opens. Is something that will cost the taxpayer in the short term, but benefit the nation in the long term something that we're willing to endure in as the Prime Minister so eloquently calls "our national endeavour"?
By Craig Bateman