Perspectives

We must all back the bid to create a Transport for the North

Steve Gillingham, Mace's Director for the North, writes for Greater Manchester Business Week about backing the bid to create a Transport for the North. 

Next year will be a watershed moment for Greater Manchester. For the first time, more than two million people will be able to vote for our first ever directly elected mayor.

But there’s potentially something even more significant happening, which needs the support of business in Manchester. Transport for The North (TfN) has submitted its case to the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to become the first pan-regional statutory transport body outside of London.

Now, on the face of it, I appreciate this may not get hearts racing, but why is it so important?

Up until now the north has never had a statutory body to oversee transport provision, set objectives, plan ahead and make the business case for infrastructure investment across the entire region in the same way that Transport for London does for the capital.

Consequently, the case for infrastructure investment in the north had been under-represented in the corridors of power for decades and transport in the north of England has been woefully underfunded.

In 2013 Manchester economist Dr John Ashcroft highlighted the stark difference between transport funding in the capital and our city:  London plans to spend more on bicycle lanes in the next decade than Greater Manchester has on all public transport infrastructure in the past 10 years.

Not only does Manchester suffer from disproportionately low levels of investment in transport infrastructure compared to London, it is also disadvantaged in comparison with competing city regions in continental Europe.

Analysis by the Department for Transport this year shows the Government will spend six times as much money on transport over the next four years of this Parliament with £1,870 being spent per person in London compared to £289 per person in the North West.

And this is of concern to businesses across our region. Studies done by the CBI and the British Chambers of Commerce have found widespread support from business for increasing investment in rail, roads and other transport infrastructure.

The north has the potential to become a global economic powerhouse, but it is fighting with its hands tied behind its back. Research we did in partnership with a former Treasury economist earlier this year showed that a modest improvement in journey times could see an economic boost of £1.1bn for the north.

If the Government is serious about creating an industrial strategy to boost economic growth and enable the entire country to thrive then local authorities and transport bodies in the north need more of a say about how our money is spent.

We are home to nearly 16 million people, more than one million private sector businesses and account for more than a quarter of the UK’s manufacturing output, and almost a fifth of its exports.

If the north was a country in its own right it would already be the tenth largest economy in Europe, greater than Belgium, Sweden, and Austria.

However, inadequate transport infrastructure means it can often take two hours for our people and freight to make the 40-mile journey to Leeds on the congested M62 or the 37-mile trip to Sheffield on snaking, one lane roads.

TfN will be particularly important for attracting funds to infrastructure projects and making sure our voice is strongly heard in a future industrial strategy. Not only will they be making the investment case to Government but their strategic planning and oversight will also help to attract additional private sector investment too.

Solid, long-term, consistent and co-ordinated governance is essential for attracting private sector investment. Pension funds invest to pay back over the next quarter century, as opposed to the next quarter, and they actively look for projects which will outlive the five-year life span of a council or government.

 

TfN will help Greater Manchester businesses by improving efficiency and reducing costs through the introduction of things like smart ticketing, a multi-modal freight and logistics strategy for the north to boost trade, and the all so important local connectivity so that we can take advantage of major schemes like HS2.

 

The Government has made clear that it will continue to back the Northern Powerhouse agenda as long as there are clear economic benefits and widespread support.

 

While I’m sure many of you will vote in the mayoral elections next year, let’s all make it clear to the Government that businesses in Manchester support TfN by writing to Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling.

 

If we do, we will help to make Greater Manchester an even better place to do business in 2017.




Published first in Greater Manchester Business Week

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“We are home to nearly 16 million people, more than one million private sector businesses and account for more than a quarter of the UK’s manufacturing output, and almost a fifth of its exports.If the north was a country in its own right it would already be the tenth largest economy in Europe, greater than Belgium, Sweden, and Austria.”

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Steve Gillingham Director for the North and Scotland

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