"Chancellor must find the cash for north's transport"

This week the Chancellor of the Exchequer is busy preparing the final details of his Budget which will be delivered next Wednesday.

With all eyes on Brexit and most analysts reporting his lack of room for manoeuvre, few people are getting too excited about what Philip Hammond’s red briefcase will hold. But if it doesn’t contain any new investment for northern transport priorities there should be one unholy fuss.

Since the summer, nearly 88,000 people have signed a petition saying enough is enough. Decades of under-investment are bringing the northern economy to its knees. The Pacer trains may be on their way out but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. How long do we have to be characterised as gritty northerners battling against the odds?

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Over the past decade, the north would have received £59bn more if it had seen the same investment per person for transport as London, but there’s nothing to suggest that will change any time soon.

It is now a well-rehearsed fact, but future public and public-private expenditure on transport in Yorkshire and the Humber is set to be just £190 per head compared to £1,940 per head in London. A tenfold difference.

Contrary to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling’s protests, that does include local spending in the north too but, crucially, it doesn’t yet include Crossrail 2 in London.

If that goes ahead, these figures are set to get a lot worse. So what will it take for the Chancellor to reverse this longstanding trend?

First, he needs to be persuaded of the economic case. The Northern Powerhouse is about many things, but transport is undoubtedly key to unlocking our potential. An independent study published by Transport for the North has already set out that improved northern transport could lead to a four per cent increase in productivity, unlocking almost £100bn and up to 850,000 new jobs by 2050.

Despite the very large sums involved, the Chancellor needs to make the case that this is the kind of investment that the country needs. In reality, Transport for the North’s projections suggest that we need up to £3bn a year for a period of 20 years and this should be viewed as ‘catch-up cash’ for regions where infrastructure investment is vital for economic rebuilding.

Second, he needs to link the investment to Brexit. Last week, IPPR North published its annual State of the North report and it showed that the north of England is likely to be affected twice as much by withdrawal from the EU than London and the south-east. Of course, we don’t know precisely the details of any deal yet, but this analysis is based largely on account of the north of England having a much greater dependency on EU trade.

We should worry that northern leaders remain denied a meaningful place at the table when it comes to Brexit negotiations, unlike their counterparts in Scotland and the City of London, but we should worry more that our northern economy is not well placed either to withstand the shock of EU withdrawal or to maximise the opportunities of any silver lining.

There is much to celebrate about the northern economy. I recently chaired a fascinating round-table discussion about the burgeoning ‘medtech’ sector in and around Leeds, for example.

More and more people are finally recognising Yorkshire’s unique assets when it comes to renewable energy. And yet neither of these economic sectors is confined to a single site or even city. To flourish they need a transport system that will give them access to skilled professionals and complex supply chains.

And if he can’t be persuaded by the economy or Brexit, how about the politics? In recent months, the aforementioned Chris Grayling has done considerable damage to the Government’s reputation in the north. Backtracking on northern electrification just days before announcing his backing for London’s £31bn Crossrail 2 scheme (which conveniently benefits his own constituency) is hardly good politics for a political party that needs votes in the north to have any chance of electoral success.

Failing to turn up for a transport debate in the Commons last week did little to restore that reputation either. His fellow MPs know it and are increasingly speaking out. Even last week, Rishi Sunak, Conservative MP for Richmond, wrote about “poor transport stalling Yorkshire’s engine” and the need for “the right investment”.

There’s still time to act. If you haven’t signed our petition then that would be a start – and you could share it with friends too – but better still you could email your MP and get him or her to apply some pressure on the Chancellor in these vital days ahead of the budget. It is only as we keep making the economic case and applying political pressure that we will succeed.

Ed Cox is director of IPPR North. Its transport petition can be found at https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/crossrail-north-now