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HS2 in talks with Chinese for over a year, says director

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A senior director at High Speed 2 has has said the organisation has been in talks with Chinese firms for more than a year

Speaking exclusively to AJ sister-title Construction News, HS2 commercial director Beth West rejected claims that chancellor George Osborne moved the goalposts by apparently inviting Chinese bids for civils contracts and said the company had been engaging with firms from China for the past 12 months.

She said the perception that Chinese firms had been invited to bid for work just two weeks ago was wrong and that members of her team had been meeting with Chinese companies for ‘well over a year’.

West was speaking after Mr Osborne launched the procurement process for £11.8 billion of civils work on HS2 and appeared to invite Chinese contractors to become involved in the project.

Ms West said: ‘From the outsider’s perspective it seems like the Chinese are being invited late in the game but they have had opportunities to engage with us.

‘We have had one-to-ones with Chinese companies for a while now and we have explained, like we have with other companies, what opportunities there are out there for them.’

West admitted to worries over whether the UK has sufficient skills capacity for HS2 after the National Infrastructure Plan for Skills reported that major projects would be threatened by a 100,000 shortfall in workers.

‘Yes, of course I am [worried],’ she said when asked about the skills shortage. ‘There is a lot of work to do, but if we are able to do everything we want to do, I think we will be able to meet the skills challenge.’

West said HS2 ‘was a different kind of railway job’, adding that meeting the skills challenge was about ‘attracting people who aren’t normally interested in trains’.

‘Part of the challenge is making people think that infrastructure is an interesting place to work,’ she continued. ‘We need to sell that story a bit better to everyone instead of focusing on, you know, just train geeks.’

West said it was not HS2’s responsibility alone and the industry’s ‘disparate’ training schemes needed to come together to ensure it overcame the larger challenge.

West also revealed to Construction News that HS2 work would be incentivised through a ‘programme-gain pool’, with all contractors across the scheme benefiting if projects came in ahead of time and under budget.

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