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HS2 urged to learn from French high speed rail 'clause sociale'

22 January 2014

The HS2 organisation is being urged to look towards France for an example of how to build a high speed railway that creates lasting economic impact and social value.

The Rail Industry Leaders Group, a lobby group of engineering companies that seeks to promote the value of high speed rail lines, is pointing to the success of the Rhine-Rhône line in helping the unemployed and disadvantaged get into work.  

The first 140km East stretch opened in December 2011 after a five-year programme and at a cost of €2.3bn, cutting the journey times from Paris to Zurich by 30 minutes. Two further lines – West and South – are also planned, although funding has not yet been secured.

In comparison, the £21bn first phase of HS2 will be a 140 mile route from London to Birmingham, reducing the journey time by about 35 minutes.

The Rhine-Rhone link included 12km of tunnels, 160 bridges, and 13 viaducts. Meanwhile, around half of the initial HS2 line will involve cuttings or tunnels, including an 11 mile stretch through the Chilterns. Both lines employ barriers and bunds to reduce noise pollution.

"On the Rhine-Rhône line, 12% of the workforce was expressly recruited from disadvantaged groups, which included the previously unemployed, the so-called unemployable, the physically disadvantaged, and people with some kind of criminal record."

Rail consultant Jim Steer, chief executive of the Rail Industry Leaders Group

A “social clause” in contracts let by the client RFF  – Reseau Ferre de France – meant that 989 disadvantaged individuals were employed during the project. On average, 2,300 were employed at any one time, reaching a peak of 3,000. 

Contractors had to commit to undertaking a percentage of their work packages with workers from certain disadvantaged groups: recipients of Revenu Minimum d'insertion (RMI), a French form of welfare benefit for working age adults that haven’t worked in the past or built up a contributions history; people with a recognised disability; unemployed people aged over 50; and young people who were unskilled or who had never worked.

Civil engineering contractors had to commit to a 7% target, but achieved 12%, landscaping contractors had a 10% target target and a success rate around 12%, and the railway equipment manufacturers committed to 5% but achieved 14%. 

Out of the 989, 44% were long-term unemployed and 19% had previously received RMI. In addition, 10% of the group were unemployed and over 50,  and 2% had physical disabilities. 

Financial penalties of €500 a day were imposed on contractors that failed to send client RFF regularly updated information about who they were employing. This was on top of “disuasive” penalties if they failed to meet the employment targets laid down in the contracts. 

Rail consultant Jim Steer, chief executive of the Rail Industry Leaders Group, told the Independent on Sunday: “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, where 12% of the workforce was expressly recruited from disadvantaged groups, which included the previously unemployed, the so-called unemployable, the physically disadvantaged, and 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.”

Ben Ruse, HS2 spokesperson, said: “HS2 Ltd is already working with Department of Business, Innovation and Skills and Department for Transport to look at ways maximise the economic benefits that HS2 will bring for the UK. Getting the right workers, skills and services from across the UK is integral to this success. Employment opportunities will be readily accessible to local communities. We’ll have the chance to encourage greater diversity among those entering a career in engineering, construction and the built environment.

“This aim is underlined by the recent announcement of the HS2 College that will open in 2017. It will be the first new incorporated Further Education College in over 20 years and offers the necessary technical training to ensure the best opportunities for HS2 to be built by skilled British workers.

“We continue to work with the government to make sure the new north-south railway delivers a tangible skills legacy that will serve this country for the next century and continues the UK’s proud tradition of providing engineering expertise around the world.”

Comments

I have travelled extensively on French railways (and around the world). The system in France shows what can be achieved with taxpayers money being ringfenced for public transport. The trains are clean, fast modern (air conditioned), cheap and regular.

Brian Wheeldon ACIOB, 21 January 2014

If public money is used to build HS2 then it should focus on providing public benefits beyond the railway itself. So following the model outlined above should be encouraged, whilst the establishment of the HS2 college should be supported by industry at large as it could in the future provide and develop skills we can export across the world.

Simon Bollard, 21 January 2014

Seems like another example of the French limiting competition and avoiding EU tendering requirements!

Derek Wolstenholme, 21 January 2014

Fantastique! Similar initiatives have been in place for Welsh funded projects for some years, with differing outcomes but mostly positive. It can be done as this illustrates, but needs real investment and to challenge perceptions.

E Bull, 23 January 2014

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