Mike Brown shares jobs and skills vision
A year ago, the UK was dealing with the early stages of the pandemic. Since then, life has changed in so many ways. Many people have sadly felt the devastating impact of Covid-19. But one year on, there is much to be hopeful about. Incredibly, more than 22 million people have already had a jab. Thanks to some amazing scientists, our wonderful NHS, and the Government’s vaccine programme, we have good reason to look to a bright future.
At the heart of that bright future and the UK’s recovery will be the creation of opportunities for training and employment. That’s where the vital restoration of the Palace of Westminster can help, with thousands of jobs and apprenticeships in every corner of the UK.
The Palace of Westminster is one of a small handful of buildings worldwide which we can legitimately call a global icon. It is recognised by billions and is a symbol of the UK. When we speak to people, from Paisley to Portsmouth, they tell us how important their connection is to the home of our Parliament. The site has been the seat of British politics for nearly 1000 years. Its status as such has endured since it was rebuilt more than 150 years ago, when Queen Victoria was on the throne.
Inevitably, the building is suffering from the ravages of time. It is falling apart faster than it can be fixed. In my 30 years working in transport, including as Transport for London Commissioner, I spent many hours in the deep tunnels of the world’s oldest underground network. The challenges of maintaining and updating these centuries-old systems are immense and involve the best engineers and technicians.
However in many ways the challenge of restoring Parliament is even greater. The huge Victorian networks of heating, gas, and water systems are outdated. The sewage system dates back to 1888. More worrying, asbestos is widespread, ageing electrical cables interweave with creaking steam pipes and the risk of fire, while mitigated by 24-hour patrols and new safety systems, is very real.
The Palace is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It simply must be saved. This is more than a renovation project. It is a responsibility we all have to the nation and it will of course contribute to our national recovery.
We will create thousands of jobs and apprenticeships across the UK. Stonemasons and carpenters will work alongside high-tech engineers and digital designers. Wherever possible, we will use UK materials. We will harness the huge wealth of skills scattered across our four nations, targeting apprenticeships at areas where they are most needed.
I firmly believe this major project will provide a launchpad for the next generation of skilled craftspeople and engineers.
And we are already starting. Our Shared Apprenticeship Scheme will employ 160 apprentices UK-wide, and loan them to small businesses in our supply chain. Our partnership with the Social Mobility Foundation will offer dozens of young people paid internships and placements. These schemes, alongside others that will create thousands more jobs as the project progresses, will forge a legacy of skills that will serve the country for years to come.
Today, after sharing first with MPs and Peers, we publish the findings of a review on the complex restoration, giving clarity about the way forward so we can carry on with the job while of course focusing on value for money. We will restore this priceless building, so often at the centre of the most significant moments in our nation’s history, to make sure it is also an enduring part of our future.