Greg Clark MP: We need cities to drive growth. And we need HS2 to connect cities.
Greg Clark is Financial Secretary to the Treasury and MP for Tunbridge Wells. Follow Greg on Twitter.
The Harvard economist Ricardo Hausmann has shown that most of the differences in income and wealth creation between nations can be attributed to how complex their economies are. Broadly speaking, poorer countries make simple things that everyone else can make, while richer countries make things that are complex that not everyone makes. According to one study, in the US, the average employee works with 100 other people to do their job, while in India the average employee works with four.
As Hausmann puts it: “for a complex society to exist, people who know about design, marketing, finance, technology, operations and trade law must be able to combine their knowledge to make products. Modern man is useless as an individual: making a computer is a team sport.” Adam Smith, of course, had the same insight two centuries earlier.
This is one of the reasons why, across the world, cities are emerging as the places where economic growth is strongest. The purpose of cities – their raison d’etre – is to bring people together to allow them to specialise in what they do best and to collaborate with each other. One of the reasons why London has been so successful is that you can find just about anything you want there – experts, specialists, products, services, finance and labour.
Britain is unusual in having, outside London, a number of great cities that are quite poorly connected with each other and, to varying degrees, with the capital. Countries around the world are bringing their principal cities together through fast, easy transport links. In Britain, there is the potential for the cities of the North and Midlands to have transport connections with each other that not only link our principal economic clusters, but which can endow them with many of the benefits of a single city. With HS2, it will take 38 minutes to travel from Birmingham to Sheffield, and 41 minutes to Manchester. These are journey times that are less than the time it can take to travel within and across London – say from Enfield to Croydon, or from Ealing to Stratford.
HS2 offers the prospect of transforming the economic geography of our country. It can make our cities as well-connected with each other as is London itself. This opens the prospect of businesses and people being able to be based in any one of them without losing out on the inexhaustible range of connections, suppliers and collaborators that has impelled our biggest city’s economic success.