Upgrading the commitment to London-style transport across the UK by

Deniz Huseyin

February 02, 2022

Transport links across the UK will be ‘significantly closer to London standards’, with improved services, simpler fares and integrated ticketing by 2030, the government has promised in its new Leveling Up white paper .

The strategy, launched today by Leveling Up Secretary Michael Gove, will support the establishment of Combined Mayors’ Authorities (MCAs) across England and proposes a ‘simplified long-term funding settlement’.

Negotiations are due to start with the combined authorities of the West Midlands and Greater Manchester to allow for ‘deeper decentralization arrangements’. The limits of the new MCMs will be “recast if necessary” to ensure “greater economic consistency”. The government says it will invite nine regions to enter into new county agreements and will seek to enter into further MCA agreements.

Central missions

The white paper sets out 12 core missions by 2030, including plans to: close transport and connectivity gaps; bridging the gap between the best and worst performing cities in the UK; improve the level of education of children leaving primary school; reduce the gap in healthy life expectancy between the best and worst performing regions of the UK; and providing 5G broadband access to the “vast majority” of homes.

Labor said the plans contained no new money and little new thinking. But Gove argued that the strategy was not about providing new funding but about ensuring money already pledged was spent effectively.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak had already presented a “huge cheque” in his spending review (in October 2021) which would now be spent, Gove told Sky News.

“We make sure in Wolverhampton, Sheffield and other areas that we put our money where our mouth is,” he said. “And that we are making sure that money that was overspent in the past in London and the South East is now spent in the North and the Midlands where it is needed.”

Since 2019, the government has begun the process of spreading opportunities across the country, “while mitigating the worst effects of the pandemic”, according to the white paper.

It highlights: five-year consolidated transport settlements amounting to £5.7 billion in eight city regions outside London; £5 billion in funding for buses and active travel in this Parliament; and £96bn for the Integrated Rail Plan “providing faster, more frequent and more reliable journeys across the North of England and the Midlands”.

UK Shared Prosperity Fund

The strategy references Britain’s £2.6bn Shared Prosperity Fund, which is due to launch in the spring. The will focus on three main areas of investment: improving communities and place; people and skills; and support local businesses.

“We will reduce the bureaucracy of former EU regional funds,” says the White Paper. “Instead, local leaders will be empowered to direct funding towards their own locally identified priorities, whether that be promoting new outdoor markets, reducing litter, graffiti and anti-social behavior, reviving main streets, support local businesses or introduce skills to match local labor market needs and support those furthest from the labor market.

The UK Shared Prosperity Fund will regenerate 20 towns and cities “by assembling and remediating brownfield sites and working with the private sector to deliver transformational developments combining housing, retail and business into new sustainable, walkable and beautiful neighbourhoods”.

Michael Gove said: “The UK is an unprecedented success story with one of the biggest and fastest growing economies in the world.

“But not everyone shares the UK’s success equally. Big cities like Glasgow, Belfast, Swansea and Manchester, and proud cities from Aberystwyth to Armagh, Bangor and Yeovil, have huge potential but contain inequalities that hold too many people back.

“Our ambitious plan to unite and level the whole of the UK aims to end this historic injustice and call time on the postcode lottery. We will only succeed if all layers of government – UK, devolved and local – work together.

Where missions fall into devolved policy areas, the UK government will seek to work in conjunction with devolved governments, he said.

Mayors react to the White Paper

Andy Street, the Conservative mayor of the West Midlands, said the white paper would “finally resolve the imbalance of opportunity across the UK”.

He said: “Before the pandemic, we already had the fastest growing economy outside of London, with record homes being built, record numbers of works and record investment in public transport.

“But with Covid hitting us for six years, we needed the White Paper to help get us back on track, and that’s exactly what it will do.”

Street said he would seek talks with the government for a new “decentralization deal” for the region.

Tracy Brabin, Labor mayor of West Yorkshire, welcomed the white paper but said the North would be “in trouble” if the strategy was not backed by additional funding.

She said: “The devil is going to be in the details. It’s like a love letter to Leveling Up: lots of ambition, lots of hope, but unless you have the money and the resources , you’re going to have a hard time.”

South Yorkshire Mayor Dan Jarvis of Labor said the white paper was a ‘step in the right direction’ but added the strategy did ‘not deliver the investment needed to deliver the transformational change we want all to see in the North”. .

Meanwhile, Andy Burnham, Labor mayor of Greater Manchester, has said the North risks being left with ‘second-best’ trains for 200 years under the government’s £96billion rail plan.

While Greater Manchester would do better than most in the North, the rail plan would “not maximize the benefits of levelling”, he warned.

The Integrated Rail Plan, published in November 2021, abandoned plans for the Birmingham to Leeds section of the HS2 high-speed rail line and did not include a full high-speed east-west line linking Manchester to Leeds.

“These are unique decisions in 200 years for the country and particularly for the north of England,” Burnham said. “If we get second best, the North will have second best for 200 years or more.”

The Treasury had failed to carry out a leveling analysis of the economic benefits that would flow from the rail plan, Burnham argued. The expense question, he said, should be “does this maximize the benefits of leveling – and I don’t believe it does.”

White Paper Leveling Up: 12 missions by 2030

  • Increase in wages, employment and productivity. Each region will have a globally competitive city, and the gap between the top performers and the rest will close
  • Investment in research and development outside the Greater South East will increase by at least 40%, as the government seeks to increase private sector growth by at least twice as much
  • Local transport connectivity will be closer to London standards, with improved services and integrated ticketing
  • The UK will have nationwide gigabit-enabled broadband and 4G coverage. Many areas will have 5G coverage
  • The number of people with high quality vocational training will have increased significantly in every region. This should allow 200,000 additional people to follow this type of training in England
  • The gap in healthy life expectancy (HLE) between the local areas where it is highest and lowest will have narrowed. HLE will increase by five years by 2035
  • Wellbeing will improve in all parts of the UK
  • People’s pride in where they live and their engagement with local culture will have increased in all parts of the UK
  • Tenants will have safe access to the property and there will be more first-time buyers in every region. The number of non-decent rental units will be halved
  • Homicide, serious violence and neighborhood crime rates will drop
  • Every region of England that wants a devolution deal will have one

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