We need a transport funding revolution, say northern businesses

A coalition of northern businesses is calling on the government to make a revolutionary funding commitment in the upcoming Autumn Statement and devolve Northern transport powers without delay.

They say spending commitments in the north per head should exceed those of London over the next decade. The unprecedented move would free Transport for the North to make the decisions that matter for the region in its bid to grow as an economic powerhouse after years of underfunding.

According to figures from IPPR North, current government spending on transport is more than six times greater per head in London and the south east than in the north, a gap of £1,600 per person. This is despite the northern economic area being larger than London, with 15.1 million residents, as opposed to 8.7million.

The call to revolutionise transport funding comes from professional services giants Addleshaw Goddard, Grant Thornton and Atkins, who have produced an Unlocking Growth in the North report. The report is the outcome of a series of roundtable events held over the last year in Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester and York, involving over 100 organisations, to discuss how to boost growth in the north and rebalance the UK economy.

The report, which is publicly backed by several leading businesses across the north including Drax Power, Siemens UK, Hitachi Rail Europe and Amey, calls for the full and swift devolution of powers matched with the funding commitments required to help transport commissioners make the decisions that matter for transport infrastructure in the north. 

This includes improvements to northern roads, rail and ticketing systems, as well as better freight connections and east-west links. The report also explores long-term pathways for private investment in transport infrastructure.

The report calls for the existing roadmap towards transport devolution to be strengthened and expedited. Transport for The North applied to become a statutory body last month after government announced the move in the summer budget in 2015.

Paul Hirst, partner at Addleshaw Goddard, said: “The north’s performance has been severely hampered by a major shortfall in investment. It is clear that that underinvestment has damaged growth in the UK economy and it is time this damage is undone and that spending in the north is greater, for a period, to unleash the north’s economic potential.”

“Like the many organisations involved in producing this report, the Northern Powerhouse recognises this region’s vast potential. For too long, a lack of powers and chronic under-funding in transport have held the North back. In post-Brexit Britain this needs to change. That’s why we’re calling on the Government to use this Autumn Statement to revolutionise Northern transport by swiftly devolving statutory powers and injecting the necessary funding to unlock growth in the North.”

Philip Dyer, Northern Powerhouse director at Atkins, said: “In a recent speech, the chancellor said that now is a good time to invest in genuinely productivity-enhancing infrastructure. We agree, and the Autumn Statement is the perfect opportunity to put the words into action. It was clear from the round tables we held that there is a huge appetite from the business community to drive the growth agenda, but the north’s infrastructure, particularly transport, desperately needs attention to enable this to happen.”

Daniel Mansfield, principal consultant at Grant Thornton, said: “With these key recommendations to better connect the north, we hope to accelerate the delivery of the Northern Powerhouse. Throughout our series of roundtable events focussing on unlocking growth across the North, 100 organisations unequivocally demanded bold improvements to the region’s transport infrastructure. We hope that the government will listen to the voice of northern businesses and match our ambition for our region.”

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