Transport ministers favour southern issues by four to one, new data reveals

Transport ministers are systematically shunning meetings about issues related to the north in favour of southern projects by a rate of more than four to one, according to new analysis revealed by The Yorkshire Post.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling arrives to attend the weekly meeting of the Cabinet in Downing Street.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling arrives to attend the weekly meeting of the Cabinet in Downing Street.

According to Government data, the Department for Transport held 440 meetings with industry, stakeholders and relevant parties in the first nine months of 2018.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling attended 178 of those – only 17 of which had a northern focus, with 44 covering southern issues and 8 concerned with the midlands.

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Over the same period, the minister responsible for local transport and devolution, Jesse Norman, did not meet a single northern stakeholder.

A pacer train at Long Preston.

He has recently been promoted to number two in the department.

The analysis shows that from January to September 2018 southern issues dominated ministerial meetings, with 105 focused on the south while only 25 were on the north and 14 on the midlands.

This means that during the nine-month stretch a quarter of all meetings at the Department for Transport related to southern projects, compared to just three per cent about the midlands and six per cent about the north.

The figures are particularly surprising given that they coincide with a period of intense rail chaos in the north of England, which was sparked by a botched timetable change and prompted months of delays and cancellations across the region.

Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald condemned the findings, branding them “shameful”.

He told The Yorkshire Post: “Chris Grayling’s tenure at the helm of the Department for Transport goes from bad to worse.

“It is shameful that on his watch, the midlands and the north have been snubbed and left to play second fiddle.

“Labour is on the side of transport commuters and passengers across the country, and will ensure that we work in the interests of the many, not the few.”

Other ministers fared worse than the Transport Secretary on dividing their time equally between regions.

Jo Johnson, who has since resigned as a minister, spent 7 per cent of his meetings on northern issues, with Nusrat Ghani on 1.6 per cent and Baroness Sugg on 3.7.

Hereford and South Herefordshire MP Jesse Norman had nearly 70 meetings between January and September last year but did not see any organisations from Yorkshire and Humber, the north east or the north west and only managed to meet with three representatives from the midlands.

Mr Norman held discussions with west midlands transport bosses in January and March and met Conservative mayor Andy Street in September.

Responding to the figures, a department for transport spokesman said: ""These claims are complete nonsense. As recently as last Friday the Transport Secretary met with Andy Burnham to discuss options for expansion of Urban Transport in Greater Manchester and with Andrew Stephenson MP and local councillors in Pendle as the Department investigated improving cross-Pennine Transport links between East Lancashire and West Yorkshire.

“Within the last week the Secretary of State also re-committed to the second stage of HS2 at a meeting with Northern Council leaders and others in Parliament - one of the most important engineering projects since the Victoria age, which will bring major cities in the West Midlands and the North closer together.

“None of these meetings would be covered by this selective “data” release.

"By 2020, the government will have invested a record £13bn in the North - on projects like the Trans-Pennine upgrade, that’s starting this spring, and supporting the North East through new trains on the Newcastle Metro and trains which will deliver faster journey times for passengers.”

A report by the Commons transport committee released last year laid bare the huge disparity in rail spending across the country, with London receiving £773 per head, compared to just £137 per head in Yorkshire and the Humber during 2016/17.

Committee chair and Labour MP for Nottingham South said at the time: “Regional economies will never be able to catch up with London while such inequalities exist…

“The Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine will struggle to live up to their names without tangible change.”