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The North-South Divide: Fixing the North’s Broken Public Transport Networks

North-South divide transport
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Louise Haigh MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

Louise Haigh discusses the weaknesses of public transport networks in the North of the country, an emblem of the North-South divide.

Anyone who has had to rely on public transport recently, particularly in the North of England, knows a simple truth: our transport system is broken, and the Government have shown very little interest in doing anything about it.

In the first month of this year, the blighted TransPennine Express cancelled over 1,000 services across the North and the Midlands. In the last quarter, their performance was regularly beaten by that of the war-torn Ukrainian railways.

It’s simply not good enough; and it’s hard to escape the impression that if this were happening elsewhere in the country, the Government would have acted sooner.

The consequences of this failure for the North are stark. Every service cut means people who are unable to get to work, see friends and family, or go for a night out. It’s holding back growth and it deepens our productivity problem.

However, it has a less tangible impact too on the confidence of investors and passengers. We cannot continue like this when business leaders are choosing not to invest because they simply cannot rely on public transport.

The UK has fallen in the league tables

The global league table shows we have fallen way behind our partners over the last decade and have slid down the rankings in rail infrastructure quality.

The cost to the northern economy of our shamefully poor transport is £16 billion in lost growth per year.

Our ambition is being held back by a transport system that barely functions and by a lost decade of short-sighted political decisions that were made far away in Westminster.

“Labour will lay the foundations for the century ahead, delivering Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2, in full.”

Louise Haigh, Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

The North of England can drive the green industrial revolution in this country. We already have huge strengths in advanced manufacturing and research.

We have attracted investment from Boeing in Sheffield and Hitachi in Newton Aycliffe, and we have 27 universities, including eight of the UK’s top research institutions. In Rotherham, world-leading expertise is working to develop small modular reactors.

In short, we have the ingredients to win the race for the industries of the future.

But what we lack is the connectivity and the efficient, reliable and integrated transport system that any investor will tell you is a prerequisite for growth.

For Labour, investment in transport is fundamental to meeting the twin challenges of our time: driving economic growth and decarbonisation. We know that every pound invested in infrastructure returns £2.80 in growth.

That’s why Labour will lay the foundations for the century ahead, delivering Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2, in full. This will include that vital new line through Bradford, which the Conservatives have reneged on time and again.

Tackling the North-South divide could unlock billions in growth

This transformational project makes economic sense, unlocking billions in growth and tens of thousands of jobs for communities. And it makes sense for passengers. It will slash journey times from Bradford to Manchester from one hour to just 20 minutes, opening a whole new world of opportunity for hundreds of thousands of people.

This is not something a Labour Government will do to the North, but we will do this with them. We will give power and control to leaders and communities because, for years, this has been taken away from them.

If the North is to truly fulfil the ambition of the people who live there, then power needs to be in their hands.

This is no more apparent than in our bus networks across the country, where operators have the power to pick whatever routes they want and charge whatever fares they wish.

We know that the bus network is a lifeline for so many passengers but, despite this, in the last year alone, more than 1,100 bus services have been cut across the country.

For years, people have said that we need to fix this, and Labour leaders across the country are already doing just that. So, the next Labour Government will expand franchising powers to every community that wants them, remove the barriers that have allowed operators to challenge the process through the courts and put power in the hands of the communities who depend on buses the most.

We are on the cusp of an enormous opportunity in the UK; we can choose to grasp it and lead the world in the industries that will power us through the next century, just as we did in the last.

Curia’s 2023 Levelling Up Commission

Curia’s Levelling Up Commission 2023 has been launched with the mission of researching how current policies can be better implemented to reduce regional inequalities. More information on the Levelling Up Commission can be found here.

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