‘Let disabled workers build the £43bn HS2’

UK should employ society’s ‘disadvantaged’ on high-speed line, as France did, says lobby group

The physically disabled, the unemployable, and even former prisoners should build the £42.6bn High Speed 2 railway, according to a powerful new industry lobbying group.

Jim Steer, chief executive at the High Speed Rail Industry Leaders Group, said that HS2 chairman Sir David Higgins should learn from France, which used nearly 1,000 disadvantaged people to build the Rhine-Rhône line. This high-speed railway opened in late 2011, cutting the journey from Paris to Zurich by 30 minutes – a similar amount of time that HS2 would carve off the commute from London to Birmingham.

Mr Steer said: “In building HS2, we have got to look to a better all-round policy, not just economic but socially as well. A good precedent for this is the Rhine-Rhône line, built and completed in France, where 12 per cent of the workforce was expressly recruited from disadvantaged groups.

“These included the previously unemployed, the so-called unemployable, the physically disadvantaged, people with some kind of criminal record. There is more than enough time [to the scheduled start of laying HS2’s tracks in 2017] to ensure there are wider social benefits from the construction phase of the project.”

Mr Steer’s words carry weight as his organisation is backed by some of the biggest rail engineers and operators in international transport. They include US giant Bechtel, Germany’s Siemens, Keolis from France, and London Stock Exchange-listed group WS Atkins, while Alstom, Bombardier and Hitachi are thought to be close to joining the membership list.

Mr Steer was once a senior figure at the Strategic Rail Authority and his comments come at an opportune moment given the bizarre diplomatic row that blew up between France and the UK last week. Responding to an article in the City AM financial newspaper that criticised France for a “generalised hatred of commerce”, the French Embassy lambasted the quality of the NHS. This in turn resulted in an angry rebuttal from Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary.

The focus on skills also comes after HS2 announced the creation of a £20m college to train a “generation of world-class engineers”. There have been fears that the UK does not have enough top-drawer engineers to build a vast new railway that could eventually link the capital to Scotland.

HS2 has been heavily criticised for its spiralling costs – the budget was increased by £10bn last year – and potential environmental damage, including the allegation that thousands of acres of ancient woodland will be destroyed to make way for the line.

The project is currently going through Parliament, with ministers hoping that a Bill approving HS2’s construction can be voted on to the statute books before next year’s general election.

Campaigners opposing the project have until 10 February to respond to HS2’s environmental statement, after a deadline for next Friday was extended. This was because 877 pages of documents related to the environmental assessment had been left off a memory stick.

On Friday, Sir David raided Network Rail to hire HS2’s first dedicated chief executive for the line’s construction, Simon Kirby.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The two faces revealed by the ultraviolet light
newsScholars left shaken after shining ultraviolet light on 500-year-old Welsh manuscript
News
Rosamund Pike played Bond girld Miranda Frost, who died in Die Another Day (PA)
news
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
newsHow do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? With people like this
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Neil Pavier: Commercial Analyst

£50,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you a professionally qualified commercial ...

Loren Hughes: Financial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Loren Hughes: Are you looking for a new opportunity that wi...

Sheridan Maine: Finance Analyst

Circa £45,000-£50,000 + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ac...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat