Rishi Sunak to invest £7billion into Britain’s transport network as part of ‘levelling up’

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Journey times would be slashed, fares made simpler and tram lines extended. The Chancellor vowed to level up the big cities by matching services with those in London.

“Great cities need great transport and that is why we are investing billions to improve connections in our city regions as we level up opportunities across the country,” he said.

The Chancellor is to invest £5.7billion to boost regional productivity with train and station upgrades and bigger networks.

His pledges will be at the centre of Wednesday’s Budget and Spending Review, to show the Government is delivering its promises despite the pandemic.

Mr Sunak said last night: “There is no reason why somebody working in the North and Midlands should have to wait several times longer for their bus or train to arrive in the morning compared to a commuter in the capital.

“This transport revolution will help redress that imbalance as we modernise our local transport networks so they are fit for our great cities and those people who live and work in them.”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “Modernising our transport network sits at the heart of our levelling up agenda.” 

He said it “will serve as a catalyst for the regeneration of towns and cities by improving infrastructure and ensuring more people have better access to jobs and education.”

The Chancellor will announce more than £1billion each for Greater Manchester and the West Midlands, £830million to help West Yorkshire and £710million for Liverpool City Region. 

Tees Valley gets £310million while £540million goes to the West of England.

The money will help provide carriages for Manchester’s Metrolink, bigger tram networks in South Yorkshire and the West Midlands plus battery packs for Merseyrail trains to extend the service.

The annual Budget sets out tax and public spending for the following financial year. A Spending Review approximately every three years allocates longer-term funding and helps departments plan.

A £1.2billion bus programme will deliver integrated fares and ticketing so passengers benefit from simpler, cheaper fares as in London. There will be more services and bus priority measures to speed up journeys on busy roads.

Devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will get extra funds because of this England investment.

Claire Walker, of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “It’s great to see the Chancellor recognise the importance of local infrastructure in driving our economy forward and levelling up communities. 

“This investment…will also be vital in achieving our net zero targets by funding more efficient, reliable and greener public transport.”

Much of the Chancellor’s Budget speech will be about fostering a “strong economy” while building in “resilience” against shocks such as the financial crisis and Covid.

Allies said his speech will be about “responsible choices” to strengthen growth rather than “pulling rabbits out of hats”.

Extra support to help with childcare is also expected to be a key part of the announcements. Mr Sunak’s room for manoeuvre grew after public borrowing fell by half in the first six months of this year.

The transport funding was welcomed by Andy Burnham, Labour mayor of Greater Manchester. He said: “We believe it shows the Government is listening to the case that Greater Manchester is making. Infrastructure investment alone will not make levelling up feel real.

“That will only happen when the frequency and coverage of bus services are increased. So we are now hopeful that the Government will soon build on this foundation.”

Andy Street, mayor of the West Midlands, said the £1billion “is the largest single transport sum we have ever received.

“From more Metro lines and train stations, to new bus routes and EV charging points, this cash will help us to continue to build a clean, green transport network.”

While Tees mayor Ben Houchen said: “This is another huge day for the region. Every part of our transport network in the region will be touched. 

“We need people to be able to get in, out and around our region easier, smoother and more reliably than ever before.”

But Labour’s shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said: “All we get from this Government is isolated announcements and no coherent plan. While we’re still waiting for the promised 4,000 zero-emission buses, cuts to bus services and rising ticket costs are pushing more people into using more polluting forms of transport.”

The Confederation of Passenger Transport, which represents the bus and coach sector, was disappointed by the £1.2billion bus boost. 

A spokesman said: “This announcement falls far short of the £3billion the Government and Prime Minister have committed to.

“It is vital that the Spending Review next week sets out the full picture.”

Comment by Macer Hall

Rishi Sunak’s £7billion cash injection for local bus and rail networks demonstrates his determination to carry on spending despite the damage done to the public finances by the Covid pandemic.

The Chancellor and his boss Boris Johnson are convinced that making good on their manifesto pledge to “level up” the regions of the UK that have been neglected for decades is the key to success at the next general election.

Modernising the country’s transport infrastructure is essential to realising that promise and £7billion marks a substantial payment towards that goal.

Commuters living in Greater Manchester and the West Midlands and around great cities like Leeds and Liverpool need journey times and service regularity on buses and trains closer to those in London and parts of the South East if productivity is to be improved and living standards raised across the country.

Mr Sunak and the Prime Minister believe genuine progress on modernising infrastructure must be visible to voters in the north of England if the former Labour heartland constituencies won over to the Tories in 2019 are to be held at the general election expected in 2023 or 2024.

Macer Hall is Daily Express Political Editor

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