Fears northern transport budget cuts could harm ‘levelling up’ agenda

Barry White, outgoing chief executive of transport for the North

Leaders have reacted with dismay to news that budgets for major public transport initiatives in the North are to be slashed.

The Department for Transport’s 2021/22 Funding Settlement for Transport for the North has cut the allocation for Transport for the North’s TfN’s Core Funding from £10m to £6m.

TfN will also lose a fifth of its total annual funding for the next financial year.

The settlement ends funding for TfN’s delivery of Integrated and Smart Ticketing, although the Government department said it would continue to look for ways to roll out the program to urban and regional commuter areas, including in the north.

While the settlement does include £67m to continue to develop the business case for Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), there is still uncertainty over the future of HS2’s north east branch through Nottingham and Sheffield, which was due to be closely integrated with NPR.

TfN, a statutory body founded to transform the transport system across northern England, has expressed its disappointment at the funding settlement and has called for an urgent meeting with the Secretary of State.

Iain Craven, finance director at Transport for the North, said: “TfN’s Board has clearly indicated it’s disappointment and concern that, a time when the Government’s levelling up agenda is needed most, funding is being cut, putting Northern investment and jobs at risk.

“It falls substantially short of what we outlined the North would need to level-up infrastructure and accelerate benefits to the region.

“There is a real worry that this signals a diminishing ambition for the North, rather than pump-priming the region’s economic recovery.

“Establishing Transport for the North was a symbolic moment for devolving power to Northern leaders, one that fully supports the levelling-up agenda.

“Our members have clearly indicated the ambition that, over time, TfN should have a greater role and more oversight of investment, but the opposite is proposed.”

Lord Jim O’Neil, vice-chairman of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership

Lord Jim O’Neill, vice-chairman of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said: “It’s extremely disappointing to see the contactless ticketing – one the North’s flagship transport projects – scrapped.

“The idea of a modern, contactless, Northern updated version of the oyster card, a n’oyster, was central to the transport element of the Northern Powerhouse concept. This decision should be reversed.

“The Department for Transport need to give northern leaders more funding powers over areas such as road and rail budgets for investment, so they can take more of the tough decisions.

“The difficult decisions around prioritisation must be taken by local leaders such as our Metro Mayors, working together to provide better connectivity within and between our city regions, including a link across the Pennines.

“This is crucial to recovery post pandemic, if the North is to rival London’s labour market.”

Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis said: “The Government’s decision to cut the internal budget for Transport for the North (TfN) by a massive 40% is another serious blow to the credibility of their levelling up agenda.

“The Government also ended TfN’s role in Integrated and Smart Ticketing, a key part of the scandalously overdue effort to drag our regional railways into the 21st century.

“We’re relieved the Government has continued funding to develop Northern Powerhouse Rail, but this move puts in doubt whether a critical part of the modernisation we need will be delivered according to Northern priorities – or at all.

Dan Jarvis

“Transport for the North itself has been a distinctive voice for a region whose transport infrastructure is in desperate need of comprehensive overhaul to remedy decades of under-investment.

“That under-investment has held back the development of some of the most deprived areas of the country, and is deeply unfair to people across the North.

“Such a massive cut suggests the Government has no faith in TfN’s mission, or has an issue with its independence and advocacy.”

The Department for Transport has said: “We are focused on delivering more modern journeys for passengers, so are now considering how to deliver a more rapid and effective roll-out.

“The Transport Secretary has spoken with Northern leaders extensively, including in late December, to discuss their priorities. The Northern Transport Acceleration Council is now considering how a range of Northern projects can be delivered more effectively.”

The Northern Transport Acceleration Council was created last July by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who believes TfN has failed to make sufficient progress.

Lord Jim O’Neil and Dan Jarvis will be speaking at the upcoming one day conference Invest North that seeks to set the agenda for the North’s post-pandemic economic recovery.