Small businesses can’t see the point

A new survey of small firms has shown the vast majority believe there will no business benefits from the proposed HS2 rail link between Manchester and London.

The Federation of Small Businesses’ (FSB) Manchester & North Cheshire branch polled members on the controversial project as to whether they thought the scheme would deliver benefits for their business if built.

When posed the question: ‘Do you think high speed rail (HS2) would result in meaningful benefits for businesses like yours in Greater Manchester and Cheshire?’, a sizeable majority at 67.93% responded ‘no’, a mere 17.63% indicated ‘yes’, with a further 14.1% said they were ‘undecided’.

Rather alarmingly, the press release containing the details of the poll referred to “the controversial £32 billion project” ignoring the £10 billion price hike last year, which, when you include the cost of the trains, now means the official cost of the project is £50 billion. If this error was in the survey, it seems likely that even more businesses would have thought that HS2 had no benefits.

FSB Regional Chairman for Greater Manchester & North Cheshire, Richard Gregg, said: “The Federation of Small Businesses has taken a neutral approach nationally to the development of high speed rail, although this survey suggests – certainly in this region – that many of our members here are unconvinced HS2 will have much effect for them.”

If the survey had been undertaken in other parts of the UK, this result would have been more expected: but with the Manchester region expected to be one of the big winners from HS2 surely this should make politicians rethink their support.

It seems that former Transport Secretary Philip Hammond’s prediction to the Transport Select Committee in 2011 – “If you are working in a factory in Manchester you might never get on HS2 but you would certainly be benefiting from it if the sales director from your company is routinely hopping on it to jet round the world from Heathrow” – will not be the reality for most FSB members in Manchester.

Richard Gregg also referred to the recent FSB manifesto for the 2015-2020 government, which urged the next Government to guarantee the ‘additionality’ of HS2 investment: the FSB manifesto states:

“It is imperative that HS2 investment does not divert funds from the critical task of upgrading the UK’s rail and road infrastructure, which is in vital need of investment and an issue most acute in rural areas.”

Gregg went on to say

“As our latest piece of research shows, many business owners here remain unconvinced that HS2 will work for them, and while that does not mean they are necessarily against it, we need commitments from politicians that HS2 does not become the one and only big transport project at the expense of everything else.

“The next Government must also recognise that high streets and rural businesses face unique challenges and therefore require special policy attention,” he added.

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