ANYONE living in the North knows that there’s a problem with transport. Commuters’ trains are regularly dangerously packed, services are slow and often delayed, and connectivity is poor.
This makes it hard for people to travel to work, access the services they need and have a decent travel experience. It also impacts negatively on local businesses’ ability to generate and retain jobs, and to be competitive.
For way too long, transport has been failing people across the North and much of this is due to chronic underinvestment in our region. IPPR North’s latest report clearly shows this. Unless the Government follows through on promises to invest in the Northern Powerhouse, the North is set to receive £2,389 less per capita than London on transport.
Our independent analysis looks at Government’s planned spending on transport infrastructure, revealing that London is set to receive £3,636 per person, whilst the North will get just £1,247 per person. Unpacking the North’s figure, Yorkshire will receive the least of all the English regions, at just £511 per person. The North East will also get a meagre £519 per person, whilst the North West will receive £2,062 per person.
Such a significant divide in investment seems hard to justify to the people in the North who experience the consequences of this disproportionate funding every day.
In recent years, different governments and Ministers have pledged to rebalance investment disparities between the North and the London. Some progress has certainly been made and the work of Transport for the North is a clear measure of this. And yet, the gap in spending between London and the North has grown.
Our assessment shows that the gap between per capita transport spending in London and in the North has widened considerably over the past 10 years, with spending on London increasing by 2.5 times more than on the North. If the North had seen the same investment per person as the capital over this period, a remarkable £66bn more would have been spent in our region.
In contrast, the Government’s own analysis of their pipeline for planned transport investments paints a far rosier picture for the North. Despite improvements in the quality of data they provided this year, IPPR North’s report finds the Government’s assessment is incomplete as it excludes from consideration key spending headings in London (e.g. up to £9.9bn in local spending) and covers planned spending only up to 2010-21. Our comprehensive analysis goes beyond this, exposing the true extent of transport infrastructure underfunding in the North. The North needs and deserves better.
From the recent call from Transport for the North for a Northern Budget, to the powerful Power Up The North campaign, there’s a palpable sense of injustice in the North about transport investment.
In his recent trip to Manchester, the new Prime Minister promised to boost the Northern Powerhouse. However, his pledges must be put into practice. That’s why we are today calling on the Government to take five actions to show real commitment to the North’s future.
First, they need to deliver on devolution, reversing the long-standing over-centralisation of power and decision-making on funding and policy that ends up benefitting London more than any other region in England, as clearly reflected in transport (under)investment.
Secondly, and linked to this, the Government should devolve a £400m project development budget to the North, allowing TfN and local transport authorities to bring forward projects for investment.
Thirdly, the Government should urgently invest in the full Northern Powerhouse Rail project (and not just sections of it), unleashing its transformative potential. Despite rhetoric, this project is yet to make its way into Government’s pipeline. The imminent Spending Review is a perfect opportunity for the government to change this, and to rebuild trust in the North.
Fourthly, we recommend that phase two of HS2 should start in the North first. This would help addressing issues of intra-North connectivity before HS2 is completed, whilst also accelerating the Northern Powerhouse Rail project as this could draw on HS2 infrastructure.
Finally, beyond crucial investments in long-term infrastructure projects, there are a number of transport ‘quick win’ projects that could start as early as 2020, and create a tangible difference for people living and working in the North in the short term, too.
Now, more than ever, we need a Northern Powerhouse of the North, by the North and for the North – and a transformative transport infrastructure investment agenda should be at the heart of it. The Government has a real opportunity to make this happen, but we need to see its rhetoric translated into action as a matter of urgency.
Arianna Giovannini is the interim Director of IPPR North. She tweets @AriannaGi.