Northern Train

Transport bosses slam funding cuts

Neil Tague

Senior figures have reacted with dismay to the reduction of support for Northern transport projects, claiming measures including the axing of backing for smart ticketing betray the “levelling-up” agenda.

A Transport for the North board meeting was held yesterday to discuss ways forward, after the Department for Transport told TfN earlier this month that its core budget will be cut from £10m to £6m in the next financial year – a reduction that follows an in-year emergency reduction in the current year.

Funding for the £150m integrated and smart ticketing project, a banner scheme for TfN that saw Jeremy Acklam brought in as director in summer 2020, is to be cut entirely, £15.8m having been allocated in the previous year and £33m being asked for in 2021/22.

Speaking following the meeting, TfN finance director Iain Craven said: “Transport for the North’s board has clearly indicated it’s disappointment and concern that, at 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. 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.

“We are seeking an early meeting between our members and the Transport Secretary.”

Grant Shapps, who took over as Secretary of State for Transport in 2019, holds Cabinet responsibility for the Northern Powerhouse. Last year, he set up the Northern Transport Acceleration Council, which was billed as offering Northern leaders a “direct line” to ministers.

The only funding commitment made by the DfT beyond the £6m core budget, which covers areas such as staffing and support costs, is £75m for the Northern Powerhouse Rail project.

Papers prepared for the TfN meeting showed that key items for discussion also included developing and prioritising an investment pipeline, achieving greater accountability and public participation in transport policy, and assessing how a long-term pan-modal funding settlement could lead to better outcomes.

TfN, whose chief executive Barry White is due to step down in a matter of months, said that the loss of smart travel funding could delay the roll-out of contactless technology on bus, rail and light rail networks in key geographies, adding that the cuts are “likely to lead to workforce reductions”.

Lord Jim O’Neill, vice-chair 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 Oystercard was central to the transport element of the Northern Powerhouse concept. This decision should be reversed.”

Alasdair Reisner, chief executive of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association, said: “This is very disappointing news, and we would urge the Government to reconsider pulling promised investment from a body that has done more than any other to develop a cohesive vision for future transport across northern England.

“The Conservative Party won a majority in part through promising a ‘levelling up’ agenda. It is difficult to see how imposing budget cuts on Transport for the North will do anything other than undermine this agenda and set back the Government’s stated policy of narrowing the economic gap.”

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This is incredibly concerning, as it’s completely at odds with everything the government has being saying for the last five years and indicates a big dip in ambition for Northern infrastructure. Perhaps a sign of further austerity coming?

By Superhans

This is not at all surprising, what else did people expect from this government?

By well well

Clearly there is no levelling up happening or planned. Instead the government is taking back control to the centre and reneging on all the false promises they’ve made

By Mancunian

Maybe we should devolve to join Scotland.

By Northern Poorhouse

Where will the budget cuts be made and who will benefit the most from the remaining budget, as it all seems too familiar?

By Liverpolitis

Can we all just forget the myth of levelling up and the Northern Powerhouse? It’s a smokescreen and nothing else. The cut is probably a drop in the ocean compared to the overspend on Crossrail that seems to have had a blank cheque and is in danger of being a white elephant even before it opens.

By Mark Gilbertson

Surely the train companies need to put their hands in their pockets and use all that profit they make on over charging customers for standing like sardines in 30 year old trains…?

By Aevis

What is happening to the budgets of other parts of the country?
Are they similarly affected, or is just the North whose budget is being cut?

By Forward Thinker

Yet crossrail unaffected inspite of massive overspending and delays

By George

This tory Government has little to no interest in the North, levelling up is just a slogan.

By Monty

What’s that you say? Another promise not to be kept? Why is anyone surprised?

By Adam Ash

More to do with the fact that we don’t need pan-North smart ticketing to be led by the public sector. A specific withdrawal for that project, not devo/levelling up

By DevoMax