Broken transport networks having ‘crippling effect’ on access to jobs, PM warned

Broken public transport networks are having a “crippling effect” on access to jobs in towns and cities where Boris Johnson aims to “level up”, a Conservative think-tank has warned.

In a new report, Onward reveals the areas where chronic transport connectivity puts employment opportunities out of reach and describes the “shocking transport gap” between North and South.

Backed by the “levelling up” parliamentary taskforce — boasting 65 Conservative MPs — it claims that public transport in London nearly quadruples residents’ access to jobs and opportunities.

However, in Newcastle and Glasgow, public transport only boosts access to jobs by a third, the report adds, urging the government to prioritise transport in towns and cities as part of the “levelling up” agenda.

It comes after the prime minister delivered a keynote speech to the Conservative Party conference on Wednesday boasting about his election slogan to level up the country – but was criticised for being “vacuous” on policy.

Earlier this week, Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, urged the government to accept his own “levelling up” deal for the region, with a support package including a “London-style” transport system.

The Labour mayor suggested there was an “outrageous” inequality between transport costs in the capital and elsewhere and would not wait while the prime minister struggled to define his levelling-up project.

Ahead of the long-promised government white paper on “levelling up” — expected before the end of 2021 — the Onward think-tank added that in some areas, including Stoke-on-Trent and Bolsover, workers can only access around three-quarters of local jobs within an hour on public transport.

“This compares to some towns in London’s hinterland, like Redbridge, Barnet or Epping Forest, where an hour on public transport unlocks access to seven times more jobs than exist locally,” the authors said.

The think-tank claims the findings demonstrate the government should “ruthlessly target transport investment towards the intra-city networks of regional cities — especially Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle and Birmingham”.

“Outside the south of England, poor public transport is holding back opportunity and growth,” said the author of the report and senior researcher at Onward, James Blagden.

“Improving connectivity within city regions and between city centres and outlying towns, will be key to the success of levelling up”.

“All of our major cities, except London, lag behind the national average for public transport connectivity. Mass transit boosts access to jobs by 51 per cent in Birmingham and 35 per cent in Newcastle, but this rises to 270 per cent in London.”

The director of Onward and former No 10 adviser, Will Tanner, added: “Levelling up must amount to much more than transport projects alone. But this report reveals the crippling effects that broken public transport networks are having on access to jobs in many of the regional towns and cities that the government hopes to level up.

“A jobseeker in Halifax or Mansfield today can reach half the number of jobs as someone in Aldershot or Horsham – not because the local labour market is bigger but because chronic public transport leaves them more isolated.

“This undermines wages, reduces regional productivity and leads to worse social outcomes too. If the Government wants to level up economic opportunity, this is where transport investment should go.”

Welcoming the report Rob Largan, the MP for High Peak, said: “If levelling up is to mean anything, then it must be about fixing this and reducing transport inequalities between regions. I sincerely hope the government take this report on board carefully.”

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