Transport spending in our ever dis-United Kingdom

Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, has come out by criticising leaked potential delays to HS2, claiming that “It’s the same old story. London and the South gets whatever it wants, and it’s all about penny-pinching in the North.” The leaked document claimed that HS2’s budget runs the risk of inflating over £100bn, an unprecedented figure for the project. Burnham was irked by the fact that the London to Birmingham portion of the route was prioritised and still undertaken despite financial irresponsibility and overinflated budgets, yet the route further northward had been postponed till after the construction of the initial route to Birmingham and now runs the risk of being delayed further or even cancelled completely.

The North of England has undoubtedly been deprived financially from infrastructure spending for decades and this crisis with HS2 only scratches the surface of the issues that are now entrenched deep within Northern societies. Anti-London sentiment remains unequivocally strong in these areas and was most prominently visible in the 2016 EU referendum vote which saw London as “out of touch” with the rest of England. With London now deciding that a key rail route may be delayed or even cancelled, this sentiment is likely to worsen.

After recently travelling along the German ICE network, I quickly realised how essential HS2 could be for transporting people across the UK. Travelling at over 170mph, my journey from Stuttgart to Mannheim was over in a flash; if this were to be replicated in the UK, the results would be astonishing. However, two key critiques must surface: one being that it is pointless building HS2 if current rail prices in the UK are maintained. If this is the case, London and the South would be the only beneficiaries of the project as those in Northern areas may struggle more to afford the high-speed line due to lower average wages.

The second point is that intra-Northern rail should be the Government’s top priority as it’s a cheaper, lower risk and brings greater net benefit to the region than HS2. Furthermore, with Boris gaining such a large number of seats from this region at the most recent election, he will no doubt be keen to appease the voters further: either by approving HS2 further or by cementing funding for my preferred project: the Northern Powerhouse project.

Delving into the numbers, we can see that the North falls behind massively in per capita spending on transport. A 2019 report by IPPR concluded that those in the North are set to receive, on average, £2,389 less per person on transport than someone in London. One must note however, that this figure is based upon the Northern Powerhouse project not being invested in. The best way to develop economies in these transport-stricken areas is by investment in higher speed and higher capacity rail routes. However, to truly address the transportation issues in this region, we must deal with the route problems: Northern Rail.

The omnishambles of the rail franchise system in the UK, the North has had to struggle with constantly delayed, cancelled and amended services which have caused unforeseen economic and social consequences.

The Government must renationalise the service, even just temporarily, to alleviate issues with the service as it is essential to much of the economy in the region. For example, the cursed East Coast Mainline was renationalised after poor performances in 2018 and has since seen consistently high consumer satisfaction and on-time rates: something Northern must be transformed to replicate.

The imbalance in transport spending must be addressed if we are to better reduce economic inequality across our ever-disunited Kingdom. Funding must be secured for the Northern Powerhouse project to bring per capita spending in-line with London levels and the Government must wake up to the fact that the North is as much a part of the UK as London is; as such it should be funded in the same manner.

Image: Ethan Wilkinson via Pexels 

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