Friday, 1 February 2013


Three years after Labour produced a detailed proposal for the building of high speed rail (HS2) routes in Britain, the Tories have this week finally announced their own scheme. Unfortunately the wasted years of uncertainty means work won’t begin until 2017 at the earliest.

The best that can be said of these delays is that it’s ‘better late than never’, especially for our economy which is on the brink of a triple-dip recession and which needed the investment months ago. But now that the government is committed to this infrastructure project, we must seize the opportunity and help the future career development of tens of thousands of young people.

Britain has almost one million young people unemployed and the number out of work for more than 12 months has doubled in the last year. In the developed world, only Greece and Spain are doing worse.

The economy has been flatlining for two years but the building of HS2 is a fantastic opportunity to give a real boost to young people’s future prospects now. It is a chance to create a new generation of skilled British workers rather than waste the talent of those growing up wondering if they will ever get a decent job.

Experts say that for every £1 million of government spending projects like HS2, a minimum of one apprenticeship should be created. When money is tight and we are spending £33 billion, this really shouldn’t be too much to ask.

Labour’s Youth Task Force is taking this challenge head on - examining the best ways of tackling the problem of youth unemployment by drawing on best practice across the country. For example, we would insist that when large firms win government contracts for projects like HS2 they must put high-quality apprenticeship schemes in place and commit to training young people for high-skilled jobs.

But it’s not enough to just build a new route between London and Manchester. Young people in the North West might not want to move across the county to where the new train lines are being built so we need to give all young people a route to their futures and that starts in local schools and colleges.

Labour would offer school students quality vocational courses that would lead to a new gold standard qualification called a Technical Baccalaureate. We would also create a national application system for young people who want to find an apprenticeship that would work just the same as the UCAS system does for those applying to university.

The time has come to end the divide that says university is always best and vocational education is only second-best. Kick-starting our economy and giving young people a chance is not going to be easy in these tough times but Britain needs these One Nation Labour policies so that we can ensure everyone plays their part and that we use the talents of every young person in the country.