All you need to know about England's devolution revolution
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When a level playing field isn't level: the problem with Northern transport
By Iain Taylor, Director of the Atlantic Gateway
Underinvestment in Northern transport infrastructure relative to the South has been a feature of Northern frustration for many years, with many think tanks, policy units and experts casting opinion and perspective on the core question: why do regional disparities in transport investment exist and persistently favour the South East? The answer, of course, lies in the appraisal of benefits and the Green Book method for understanding which projects offer the best return. The Green Book does present an objective methodology, but by applying an even assessment of benefits, such as land value uplift, it naturally favours better off areas and fails to take account of the relative impact and benefits to poorer areas or areas with lower density of population with capacity for growth - hence the not level argument.

The UK as a whole underinvests in transport infrastructure when compared to our near neighbours in Europe. This is in spite of the evidence that tells us that investment in properly planned and delivered infrastructure is essential to support economic growth. To compound this, the UK has a very centralised governance structure, with major infrastructure decisions made in London, rather than within regions with the appropriate appraisal tools to support such large-scale regional investment.

Earlier this month, the Peel Group joined the debate by sponsoring a report - 'Investing in the Future' by Metro Dynamics - that looks at the issue of underinvestment in the North. The Metro Dynamics report argues the need to enshrine the principle that infrastructure is a significant factor in driving economic growth and to use transport infrastructure as a tool for rebalancing the economy of the UK.  Perhaps most striking is the idea to consider the relative cost-effectiveness of investments in transport infrastructure as a means for prioritising investments. Whilst smaller in absolute terms, modest investments could make a massive difference to relatively economically unsuccessful areas.

The Atlantic Gateway is recognised within the report, along with the Oxford – Cambridge corridor, as an area of focus, partly due to the active collaboration across and demonstrable delivery experience by partners in the area, but also because the benefits of good transport infrastructure are felt across broader areas than single LEPs – there are perhaps no better examples in recent times than the Post Panamax Container Terminal in Liverpool or Mersey Gateway in Halton. Both are bold investments made possible by strong business cases backed by the private and public sectors having reach and impact well beyond their host Authorities. The challenge for the Atlantic Gateway (and other recognised growth corridors) remains the transformative transport infrastructure investment where not all of the beneficiaries or end users are known.

There are many political and technical solutions to this question of imbalance and underinvestment.  I wonder that in addition to an objective method that addresses rebalancing, we also should consider allocating funding first, and then prioritise funding more locally. Either way, the government needs to rebalance England’s economy and invest further in Northern transport infrastructure to help increase productivity and secure inclusive economic growth.

Transport for the North delays Northern Powerhouse Rail plans
Transport for the North (TfN) has delayed its plans to submit a Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) proposal to the government. At the beginning of this month, transport body said it would present its Strategic Outline Business Case (SOBC) to the government by the end of this year. However, later that week, the TfN board refused to sign off on the SOBC, with The Guardian saying this was because it was too vague. Barry White, the chief executive, has confirmed in a letter to stakeholders that the case would not be published until February. Responding to an inquiry in Parliament, Nusrat Ghani, the transport minister, said she "looked forward to receiving [TfN’s] advice in the new year."
Brexit set to lessen North/South divide
A report has found that Britain’s exit from the European Union has already begun to slow growth in London, in turn reducing the economic divide between the North and South of England. Accountancy firm EY found that this reduction in growth could narrow the North/South divide over the next three years. The report also found that areas like the North East and Yorkshire and the Humber would perform more strongly post-Brexit, due to their status as manufacturing bases. Still, EY’s chief economist Mark Gregory said regional imbalances would not be completely eliminated by Brexit.
Liverpool Mayor quits Northern Powerhouse Partnership
Joe Anderson, the Mayor of Liverpool, has resigned from the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, saying he "no longer [saw] the point of being part of these bodies." Anderson said the organisation, which "represents the voice of business and civic leaders" and is chaired by former Chancellor George Osborne, was "set up by a government which isn’t prepared to listen." Responding to Anderson’s resignation, Osborne said he understood Anderson’s "frustration with the government," but that it was "precisely why we need our Northern Powerhouse Partnership to be as strong and active as it is."
Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority faces external audit
The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CPCA) will have its accounts and spending investigated by external auditors, a Cambridgeshire County Council meeting has heard. Following the dismissal of the Interim Chief Finance Officer earlier this year, the Audit and Governance Committee said it feared "reputational damage." Karl Fenlon was fired after he and Mayor James Palmer disagreed over the cost of running the Authority. Fenlon estimated the annual cost to be £7.6m, whereas Palmer’s 2017 manifesto had put this figure at just £850k. Palmer said an external review of Fenlon’s work in the new year would "ensure confidence" in the CPCA’s budget and financial strategy.
West Midlands Mayor issues Universal Credit warning
Andy Street, the Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands, has issued a warning to the region about the effects of Universal Credit. In an article for ConservativeHome, Street said that "unexpected expenses or changes to benefits" are some of the chief causes of homelessness in the West Midlands, before linking this to the recent rollout of Universal Credit. He suggested that the policy should be monitored, "making changes where necessary." The Mayor also challenged his party to meet its 2017 manifesto commitments, saying the Conservatives "must make good on promises to reduce homelessness and rough sleeping."
Local government funding settlement published after delay
The government’s review into local authority finance has been published after a delay due to Parliamentary focus on Brexit. The provisional Local Government Finance Settlement was due to be published on 6th December but was delayed until today. In a speech, local government minister James Brokenshire promised that the Settlement would commit £1bn of extra funding for local services, as well as a £1.5bn "package of support" for the UK’s high streets. Brokenshire said 2019 would be "a big moment for local government," with "plans for a new approach to distributing funding and increased business rates retention." Lord Porter, who chairs the Local Government Association, said the Settlement’s £3.2bn funding gap was "disappointing."
Northern Rail says delays will continue until May 2019
Northern Rail has warned passengers in the North of England that its services are unlikely to improve until May next year, despite a 3.2% price hike from January onwards. Even after the ‘summer of chaos,’ performance remains poor, with just 40% of trains arriving on time from 10th October – 10th November this year. At a Transport for Greater Manchester meeting, a Northern stakeholder manager explained that the poor service was due to a "horrendous" shortage of diesel trains, in turn caused by Network Rail’s overrunning electrification works.
Norfolk reconsiders devolution deal
The leader of Norfolk County Council has said he is willing to discuss the possibility of a devolution deal for the area, two years after one fell through. Norfolk and Suffolk were offered a deal by the central government in 2016 that would have seen them awarded £750m in funding for infrastructure and £130m for new homes. However, the deal was scrapped after disagreement surrounding an elected mayor. Norfolk Council leader Andrew Proctor has supported the revival of Eastern devolution talks, saying "I have always been a supporter of devolution…if there are opportunities to do things again, I would clearly support that."
Grayling considers 'flawed' £2bn TransPennine upgrade
Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, is said to be seriously considering backing a plan to spend nearly £3bn on a ‘flawed’ TransPennine Rail upgrade, according to The Guardian. A committee of the Department for Transport has even told government officials that the TransPennine route between Leeds and Manchester should not be completely electrified, as the tunnels will not be big enough for modern freight trains and there will not be enough track laid for fast trains to overtake slow ones. Commenting on the plans, shadow rail minister Rachael Maskell said it was a "downgrade of another downgrade."
North of Tyne Combined Authority appoints interim mayor
The newly formed North of Tyne Combined Authority has chosen an interim mayor until next year’s election. Norma Redfern, the elected Mayor of North Tyneside, has been chosen to lead the Authority until a North of Tyne Mayor is directly elected in May 2019. Her responsibilities include delivering ultrafast broadband to homes in the region and reopening the Newcastle-Northumberland rail link. Whilst Redfern said it would be "unfair" to endorse a mayoral candidate at this point in time, she also said Nick Forbes, the leader of Newcastle City Council, is "well experienced" in local government
Transport for the North board meeting: 7th February, Location TBC
The board will agree TfN’s Strategic Transport Plan (the economic case for other transport corridors) here. At the same time, the board will publish a long-term investment plan with detailed spending commitments. Find out more.

New Statesman Northern Powerhouse conference: 27th February, Manchester
This event will focus on devolution; investment in Northern business and infrastructure; transport; education and the rebalancing of the economy. Find out more.

Improving Transport Infrastructure across the North: 27th February, Manchester
Network Rail and Transport for the North will jointly lead an interactive strategy forum to explore the latest policy and funding updates and outline how transport can boost connectivity and economic growth. Find out more.

EvoNorth: 27th – 28th February, Manchester
This event will bring Northern leaders together to debate and collaborate on issues as varied as transport, skills, healthcare and inclusion. Find out more.

Northern Power Women awards: 18th March, Manchester
The fourth annual Northern Power Women awards will celebrate the region’s gender equality activists. Nominations for awards are open now. Find out more.
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