I am pleased that Royal Assent was granted for Phase One of HS2.  This paves the way for a new railway line that will increase capacity on our rail network, connect the biggest cities, and generate jobs and economic growth.  The National Audit Office has found the strategic case for HS2 to be convincing, and HS2 will deliver more than £2 of benefits for every £1 of investment.

It is evident that Britain's railways require additional capacity, and the Government believes that HS2 represents the most effective way of both alleviating pressure on the current network and ensuring capacity growth.  It will mean thousands of extra seats and faster journeys for passengers travelling to and from Edinburgh, Glasgow and further afield.  Phase One, between London Euston and Birmingham, will see the journey between Glasgow and London reduced by 45 minutes to under four hours, when it opens by 2027.  Then by 2033, journey times between London and Glasgow and Edinburgh will be reduced to around 3 hours and 40 minutes.

Not only will HS2 significantly enhance intercity rail services, it will also drive regional regeneration and support job creation.  It is supported by all the major conurbations that it will serve, as they recognise the key benefits that it will bring to their areas.  The decision to award £6.6 billion of contracts to build Phase One of HS2 is likely to generate around 30,000 jobs during construction and 3,000 when the line is running.  It will also support growth in the wider economy, worth an additional 100,000 jobs.  I understand that the aim is also to create at least 2,000 apprenticeships, thereby boosting the next generation's skills base. 

HS2 offers an excellent opportunity for the highly skilled Scottish companies that will be bidding for contracts.  More than 100 Scottish business have already expressed interest, and businesses are still being encouraged to put bids in.  I am delighted that the Government is delivering on its promise to spread wealth beyond London and the south-east, and am convinced that its plans will unlock the full benefits of HS2 to Scotland.

Talking Buses Campaign

Audio visual equipment on buses can support a wide range of disabled passengers to feel sufficiently confident to use buses.  It enables them to access education, employment and other services, whether or not they are familiar with the route they are travelling.
I welcome that through the Bus Services Act (2017), accessible information powers will require all bus operators who operate local services across Great Britain to provide audio and visual route and next-stop announcements on board buses.  The Government has also committed, through the Inclusive Transport Strategy, to investing £2 million towards ensuring audio visual equipment is installed on buses.
As you are aware, last year the Government launched a consultation on up-to-the minute and accessible bus information.  I understand that officials are analysing responses submitted to the consultation, and that the Government will announce its next steps regarding the making of regulations and publication of guidance later this year.  It is unfortunate that this cannot be sooner, but I am assured that the Department will respond as soon as they are able.  

I understand that access to bus services can be a lifeline for some, particularly those living in rural communities in Scotland.  My colleagues in Holyrood believe the Scottish Government should increase support for community schemes by extending the free bus pass scheme to community transport.  I believe community and charity-run buses are essential to rural Scotland.  It appears the funding currently provided by the Scottish Government for community transport is patchy and inconsistent at best, with a comprehensive national strategy absent.  I am keen that this should improve as soon as possible.