The future of the northern body which drives forward transport reform hangs in the balance amid a Government failure to confirm future funding.
Leaders across the north, including Major Andy Burnham, have now appealed to Grant Shapps, transport secretary, to release funds, while expressing their ‘serious concern’ that their budget for the next three years is a great unknown.
Transport for the North (TfN) employs around 120 staff and has offices in Manchester and Leeds.
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It works with local authorities, business leaders and the Government on how best to direct investment in the Northern transport network to boost the economy for the people in the region and the country as a whole.
This latest crisis comes hard on the heels of a slew of worrying funding cuts for public transport, recognized as a key component for pandemic recovery, leveling up and lowering pollution levels.
Funding gaps mean northern rail timetables may have to be cut yet again in 2023 and Boris’ £3bn ‘Bus Back Better’ pot – crucial for Andy Burnham’s plan to revolutionize Greater Manchester’s network – has been plundered during the Covid emergency.
TfN, which is the only statutory sub-national transport organization in England, was warned of a demotion last year following the publication of the hugely disappointing Integrated Rail Plan which ignored many of the body’s expert recommendations for Northern Powerhouse Rail.
Sold at the time by Grant Shapps as a quicker and better option, it’s since been confirmed that TfN’s recommended plan to create a new Manchester-Leeds line via Bradford would have been far superior to the Government’s cut-price solution, which slashes £18bn – and the entire city of Bradford – from the route.
At a Transport for the North (TfN) meeting on Tuesday, Louise Gittins, chair, described the situation as ‘really quite disturbing’ as she offered her ‘solidarity’ to staff who have no idea if redundancy lies ahead.
Warning the Government they were ‘playing with people’s lives’, Ms Gittins she would be writing to transport secretary Grant Shapps to request an urgent meeting.
Warrington councilor Hans Mundy, meanwhile, said he was ‘suspicious’ of what the Government was doing, adding: “It looks like we’re being deliberately driven down. It seems to me it’s a really diabolical situation for anybody to be in.
“Is it an accident or is it a deliberate plot?”
Describing the situation as ‘unfair and unacceptable’, West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin said staff had acted ‘in good faith’.
A DfT official, meanwhile, told members that Grant Shapps would be prepared to discuss funding.
Coun Gittins said on Wednesday: “At its meeting held [on Tuesday 25 January] the TfN Board expressed its serious concern at the continued lack of certainty with regards to its core funding.
“The Board was concerned to note the implications this is having on TfN’s ability to deliver its agreed program of work, and the consequential implications the continued uncertainty has for the health and well-being of staff.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.