Transport spending must benefit all regions, say MPs

23 Feb 12
MPs today called on the government to do more to show that transport spending is being fairly spread across England, amid concerns that funds are being concentrated in London.

By Richard Johnstone | 24 February 2012

MPs have called on the government to do more to show that transport spending is being fairly spread across England, amid concerns that funds are being concentrated in London.

Crossrail CROSSRAIL

The Commons transport select committee welcomed the additional investment in road and railways announced in Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement but said worries remained that the English provinces were not as well catered for as the Southeast.

In a report, Counting the cost: financial scrutiny of the department for transport 2011/12, the MPs said theDepartment for Transport should produce an annual analysis of its spending by region and show the regional impact of announcements such as Budgets.

Committee chair Louise Ellman said yesterday the DfT should also meet an earlier recommendation to produce a national transport strategy explaining what it aims to achieve with its spending. She added: ‘It is now a full year since we first made this recommendation in our report Transport and economy. So we look forward to hearing more from ministers on this crucial matter when that report is debated on the floor of the House on February 28.’

A DfT spokeswoman said the government could ‘not ignore’ the fact that London was the biggest city in the UK with a large number of commuters.

She added: ‘Infrastructure investment across the UK is key to growth, which is why we have committed over £1.4bn for 41 local transport schemes outside London in addition to £1bn of new investment by Network Rail and over £1bn for the strategic road network. We have also outlined our vision for a new national high-speed rail network connecting North and South.

‘The government’s strategy for transport investment is designed to ensure the maximum possible economic benefit to the UK as a whole. This means investing in the regions as well as ensuring that our major cities are able to compete in the world economy.’ 

Ellman said there were ‘real concerns’ about how the projects given the go-ahead by Osborne in the Autumn Statement were chosen.

Transport Secretary Justine Greening had told the committee that the 35 road and rail schemes were chosen because they could be undertaken quickly. These included a new railway from Oxford to Bedford and electrification of the Transpennine route between Leeds and Manchester.

But Ellman pointed out: ‘A project’s readiness to proceed does not necessarily demonstrate that it is the best way of using public money to promote growth.’

The announcement also took place outside the process for deciding rail investment, she said. This involves five-year spending plans, called control periods, being agreed across the industry.

Negotiations for the next period, to begin in April 2014, are already under way, and the MPs warned that the Autumn Statement ‘by-passed this process’.

They called for the projects announced not to affect the funding that will be available for the 2014–2019 period. Reducing the scope of spending to take account of the new projects ‘would be counter-productive’ if the government’s aim was to increase spending to boost the economy, the report concluded.

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