Amid the barrage of claims about the allegedly ‘transformative’ numbers of jobs which HS2 would create in the regions, it is easy to overlook several ‘inconvenient facts’:
What does the government claim?
The government claims that HS2 would ‘help to support some 60,000 jobs in the cities of the Midlands and the North’(1). These figures show that, apart from work in construction and operation and maintenance of HS2, job creation will be exclusively
a) around the new stations, and
b) associated with property redevelopment and ‘regeneration’ next to the stations.
The point here is that the real driver behind these jobs is regeneration investment, as much or more than HS2 itself. This is also the case in places like Lille in France (2). And of course regeneration investment need not be concentrated on new stations in big cities, but could be dispersed more widely, to spread the benefits better. As it is, the investment nodes at the stations are liable to siphon off footloose inward investment from elsewhere in the area.
Where would the jobs be?
In the North West – to take one regional example (and leaving aside construction and maintenance) – HS2 Ltd predicts 29,700 ‘station-supported’ jobs at Manchester Piccadilly and 300 at Manchester airport. None anywhere else. Full stop. Anything beyond this is so intangible that government cannot come up with any figures at all.
So when HS2NorthWest say that the HS2 network ‘has the potential to help support the creation of’ (note all the caveats) ‘over 30,000 jobs in the region’(3), what they actually mean is jobs in Manchester.
What about other places?
So it is surprising to find that HS2 NorthWest claim that HS2 is ‘Not Just For Manchester’(4). But what this claim boils down to is that there will be rail connections, of one sort or another, between HS2 and other places in the region. Which will mean shorter journey times to London. So ‘the new line will give Crewe a huge boost’ and Preston will receive ‘a huge boost to the city’s attractiveness’. What this ignores is that ‘connectivity’ can pull in both directions. And, given the expert consensus that new rail lines in countries like the UK will create little new economic growth, the question is whether London or Crewe and Preston will be winners or losers from the enhanced connectivity. And here expert opinion is that the bigger, stronger pole (London) will be the winner (5).
A big city stitch up
So this is a big city stitch-up. The Crewes and Prestons may well experience not benefits, but a double whammy , as they lose out to both London and Manchester. The same goes for other towns in the North West, as well as those in Yorkshire which stand to lose out to Leeds and Sheffield.
And of course there are numerous further questions about HS2 and job creation. Government has not produced the evidence behind its jobs claims, so we do not know whether the predicted jobs would be full or part time, permanent or temporary, well or poorly paid. And while the number may seem quite large, we need to remember that any jobs created by HS2 will come at a cost of a minimum of £34bn and so are very poor value for money compared to many other job creation programmes(6).
6. A normal cost per job figure would be £25,000. If HS2 were to create 100,000 jobs, as the government suggests, at a cost of £34bn, this amounts to £340,000 per job!