Granting greater local decision-making powers over transport in the North is a “classic opportunity” for Whitehall to demonstrate its faith in the Northern Powerhouse concept and invest in productive leadership for the benefit of the country as a whole, according to one of Yorkshire’s most prominent business leaders.
After three weeks of unacceptable levels of rail cancellations and delays following the introduction of new rail timetables that has heaped pressure on businesses, employees and public services, Roger Marsh, chairman of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership, said it was time for the Government to show it trusts the North to deliver investment that will have knock-on benefits for the rest of the country.
An independent review is underway, led by Leeds Council’s leader Judith Blake, to establish why the new timetables were so badly handled and how the situation can be avoided in the future.
Mr Marsh said: “I genuinely believe that the North is part of the solution, not the problem, but it isn’t because everything is wonderful, it’s because of its wonderful potential and part of that is massive investment to enable economic growth to take place, particularly in relation to rail and road infrastructure.”
As reported in The Yorkshire Post yesterday, Mr Marsh is one of 71 business and civic leaders who has signed an open letter to the Government calling for Whitehall to invest full power in Transport for the North over all infrastructure in the North of England.
It warned that “anger is mounting” over rail disruption that has seen people miss vital appointments and be issued with written warnings from employers.
Leaders blamed rail firm Northern’s failure to be ready for the new timetables as well as delays by Network Rail, which is responsible for the nation’s infrastructure, in completing engineering works and Whitehall inaction.
“If we as a people in the North are prepared to take responsibility for our future, or more positively, be in charge of our own infrastructure for both the northern and national interest, we need the powers to do it,” Mr Marsh said.
“The creation of Transport for the North as a statutory body is a classic opportunity. We recognise it’s public money but it’s about working with government about what are the essential enabling investments to unlock the extraordinary economic potential of the North. Let’s get on and do it.
“We are still in a position of going cap in hand to earn that we can be trusted with public money. I think by now we can be trusted and more than that, we can achieve extraordinary things because we are very locally-based and focused on what we need to do.
“The strategic transport plan sets out some exciting opportunities. I believe the Government believes that the North is part of the solution - the Northern Powerhouse - now it’s time to put that into actions.”
Mr Marsh is keen for the conversation with Government to be a positive, collaborative one.
He said: “Let’s not keep harping on about the problems, let’s focus on the solution going forward. We know what we need to do and we are up for it, but the Government has to give us the tools.”
Mr Marsh reasoned that investment in infrastructure can have huge economic benefits because productivity would be boosted as a result, making the North a more equitable partner in Britain’s total economic strength.
“This is about the North being in charge of its own destiny for the benefit of UK Plc,” Mr Marsh said.
Members of the Transport for the North partnership board will discuss the disruption caused by the timetable chaos at a private meeting today.
CHANGES ARE ‘BEDDING IN’
Rail bosses say it will take time for the new timetables on Northern rail services to “bed in” because of their complexity.
According to the Rail Delivery Group, which represents the rail industry, 81 per cent of Northern trains arrived as planned yesterday morning. By 10.30am, three per cent were cancelled or significantly late, with a signalling fault in Manchester partly to blame.
In the first two weeks of the new timetables 69 per cent of trains were on time.
Robert Nisbet of the Rail Delivery Group, said: “Over the last week we have seen real improvements to the rail performance as the interim timetable beds in.”