Ministers must finally commit to “big, transformative” transport projects in the North instead of disputing claims about the decades of under-funding for infrastructure in the region, a leading think-tank said today.
Without significant investment and new powers for northern transport bodies similar to those enjoyed in London, “we will continue to live in a nation which is dangerously unbalanced”, according to a hard-hitting report by IPPR North.
The think-tank’s analysis shows that from 2017/18 onwards, planned transport infrastructure spending per person will be five times higher in London than in Yorkshire and the Humber, whose total of £844 is the lowest of all English regions.
This contradicts figures released by the Government before Christmas, which said that spending in the three northern regions per head would be slightly higher than in the South between 2017/18 and 2020/21.
According to IPPR North, this interpretation is misleading, as it excludes the £56.2 billion of central, local, private and public spending planned for after 2021, most of which disproportionately benefits London.
Unless and until central government makes significant new investments in transport priorities outside the capital and affords bodies like Transport for the North the same powers as those exercised by TfL, it will be impossible to repaint a different picture and we will continue to live in a nation which is dangerously unbalanced.The IPPR North report
It also fails to account for nearly £12bn to be spent by Transport for London following a deal agreed by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling which allows the capital to keep its own business rates to spend on transport, the report says. Previously much of this funding would go to the Government and be distributed around local authorities nationwide.
The Department for Transport disputed the think-tank’s figures, describing them as “completely misleading”, but a Yorkshire MP said the analysis showed that northern tax-payers and fare-payers were being short-changed.
The report comes a week after Transport for the North (TfN), the region’s strategic transport body, set out its vision for the investment needed to transform the northern economy, at a cost of up to £70bn over 30 years.
But TfN will be forced to rely largely on central government funding to pay for the schemes, as it lacks the powers to raise revenues and borrow money that Transport for London has to fund much-needed investment.
IPPR North’s analysis shows that in the coming years, the per capita spending on transport infrastructure spending across the North is £1,600, compared to £4,155 in London and £3,029 in the West Midlands.
The report said: “For the majority of road and rail users, there should be significant concern that – however government chooses to present the figures – London will continue to receive the lion’s share of tax-payers’ money spent on transport and that these disparities will widen further as the Greater London Authority gets to keep business rate revenues which have historically been pooled, in part, to rebalance the economy.
“Unless and until central government makes significant new investments in transport priorities outside the capital and affords bodies like Transport for the North the same powers as those exercised by TfL, it will be impossible to repaint a different picture and we will continue to live in a nation which is dangerously unbalanced.”
Senior Research Fellow at IPPR North, Luke Raikes, said: “Despite the Transport Secretary’s recent statements, London is still set to receive almost three times more transport investment per person than the North. This is indefensible.
“The North has been underfunded in comparison to London for decades, and our figures demonstrate that ministers have failed to redress this imbalance. This failure will continue to hold back the North and the country until the government acts.
“The government has improved their analysis of these figures but they have then excluded almost half of the spending for which they are responsible. A disproportionate amount of that excluded money is for London.
“Instead of disputing the figures the government needs to invest in the big, transformative projects being developed in the North such as Northern Powerhouse Rail.
“The government is making Transport for the North a statutory body but it must give it similar powers to Transport for London so that it can encourage business investment and borrow for its own infrastructure instead of going cap in hand to central government.”
Unfairness ‘set in stone’
Hull North MP Diana Johnson said the analysis by IPPR North “exposes the ruses used by Chris Grayling in trying to cover up” the ongoing disparity in transport spending.
The Labour MP said: “Transport for London has powers to raise finance and drive change - while Transport for the North can only offer advice to Ministers on plans through to 2050.
“Ministers in Whitehall will still decide what schemes go ahead and what funding is made available. Moreover, huge London projects like Crossrail 2 are far more advanced than anything planned for the North.
“Without a fundamental change in Government thinking about how Northern regeneration can help boost the UK economy, this all adds up to the unfair treatment of Northern tax-payers and fare-payers being set in stone for decades ahead.”
Analysis is ‘completely misleading’
A Government spokesman described IPPR North’s calculations as “completely misleading”. He said the existing analysis focused on 2017/2018 to 2020/21 “for good reason”.
He said: “To go beyond 2021, as IPPR North has done, will be highly unrepresentative as it will only focus on a narrow set of projects which have published long-term spending projections extending beyond this date.”
He added: “It is also simply false for IPPR North to suggest ‘London will no longer contribute to transport spending in the rest of the country’, and misleading for their analysis to include Transport for London projects which receive no central government funding.
“Our analysis of planned central government transport investment shows that the spending for the North will receive more investment per person (£1,039) than the South (£1,029).”
Responding to the criticism, Mr Raikes said: “We stand by our figures and methodology but ultimately the general public will need to decide who is misleading whom.”