Paul Swinney, principal economist at think-tank Centre for Cities, has argued that whilst it was “great to see the North pulling together” at the transport summit on Wednesday, Northern leaders are “shouting about the wrong thing” . Swinney points to London’s expensive housing market and high wages as to why the capital’s commuter profile is so different to cities in the North.
People commute long distances into London because wages are high, which pulls them in, but housing is expensive, which pushes them out. This is not the case around Northern cities.
Commuting is a cost. Why would a volume of people choose to commute from the east of Leeds to Manchester when they could live in Tameside? Those that do commute currently don’t choose to live in another city but in the countryside, because it offers something different.
Crossrail 2 isn’t the same as Crossrail for the North. The former is a new commuter line within a city. The latter is an intercity link. So Manchester should instead be shouting for better commuter lines from its rural hinterland, a Crossrail for Manchester.
Despite all the noise, transport isn’t even the biggest barrier to economic growth. Skills are. Skills in Northern cities look bad not just in a UK context, but in a European one too.
This is a big barrier to attracting high-skilled business investment, leading to this outcome. But a grand transport project gets the airtime.
People are angry. Much anger seems to be based on fairness between London and the rest, based on a particular cut of transport spending stats.
Here’s what’s not fair. London has had a Mayor, devolution and Transport for London for almost two decades. Our strongest city has the greatest freedoms.
So this is what Northern cities need to do; get a Mayor, for those without one, address skills, get similar powers to Transport for London to improve transport from within.
- Swinney’s points first appeared on Twitter