It has been well documented that the recent
introduction of the new Northern Rail timetable has verged on shambolic. Not
surprising therefore, the topic for our 'Manchester Leaders Lunch' discussion
focused on transport and its impact on the Northern Powerhouse concept. More
specifically was the lack of transport connectivity commuters in the North
Across all business communities in the Northern
regions, the message we consistently receive is, “unless central government
seriously commits to investing in the transport infrastructure between the
major cities in the region, the whole Northern Powerhouse concept will
remain a pipedream”.
So we asked our guests who represented a wide
cross section of organisations, “rather than platitudes from politicians,
what tangible measures and actions could be implemented that would assist
both your organisation and the wider business economy in the North?”
The spend per head on real infrastructure and services in
London is three times more than what is spent in the North West
CEO of a global logistics firm kicked off our discussion; the underlying
issue is finance, pointing out that the spend per head on real
infrastructure and services in London is three times more than what is
spent in the North West. The reason often quoted is that London businesses
are larger and contribute more in tax and so justify greater investment.
This is no longer an acceptable excuse and a greater level of investment
in infrastructure in the North will surely attract more businesses, which
in turn will generate more tax in the region thus justifying the
business case for greater investment.
There is an
inherent conflict of interest between the major stakeholders
There is an unhealthy tension between government investing in
infrastructure and privately owned train operating companies looking to
make profit each quarter, the latter at the apparent expense of service
to the commuter.
An Executive from a large regional airport
sees the airports being a major contributor to the success of the
Greater connectivity between
the East and West is probably more important than agreeing the best
North to South connection
He referenced the importance of not
only getting the HS2 agenda right but also to address the need for
greatly improved transport links between the East and the West of the
country (e.g. between Liverpool and Hull) which plays a critical part
in UK infrastructure and airport access.
He went on to say that
Manchester Airport is in the top 15 airports in the world for its number
of destinations, so how can it not play a critical part in helping to
deliver an integrated transportation strategy for the North?
HR Director of a public body responsible for coordinating the
transport strategy for Greater Manchester, agreed that HS2 and what
happens beyond could have a significant impact for the airport and in
turn really transform the centre of Manchester.
Picking up the
east / west theme, an Executive from the aviation sector was keen to
re-iterate the impact the phase beyond HS2 would have in truly linking
for the first-time all the cities in the North.
He cited that
the time to travel between Manchester and Leeds takes up to an hour.
For two cities less than 40 miles apart this is unacceptable in today's
dynamic business environment. This sentiment was echoed around the
table with many in agreement that greater connectivity between the
East and West was probably more important at present than agreeing the
best North to South connection.
The Managing Director of a travel
management company then commented that 'on time' services would be a
key measurable difference that government should focus on, not least
because it is the number one priority for customers and businesses who
want their employees to get to work on time.
Government investment in infrastructure must be a
Public Performance Measures set-out by Network Rail to
determine the punctuality and reliability of passenger trains across the
country shows only a low percentage of trains operating in the North
running on time which is put down to the capacity of the rail network
being overloaded. The question therefore is how do we generate more
capacity? Whilst technology can enable new signalling and track
electrification, there is clearly also the need to build more
infrastructure meaning forward investment by the government must be a
He then went on to comment that having recently
travelled on the Bullet train in Japan, which travels on its own track
with no interference from freight or local running trains, he saw this
as a direct comparison with HS2. He observed that the train stations in
Japan operate like airports with their own shopping centres, which
presumably allow the investment to flow back into making the rail
operating system more effective.
He suggested that a more
innovative approach like the Japanese model should be adopted to fund
Our Chair then invited others to contribute in
terms of tangible measures Central Government could apply to help
organisations and the wider economy in the North.
The CEO of a
motorway hospitality chain responded that, whilst his business clearly has
a vested interest in the UK rail network falling short there is a more
serious congestion issue on the roads. He made the observation that
whilst the road networks in Greater Manchester are good, congestion at
peak travel times is a problem, mainly because of the volume of HGV's
operating on it. He went on to suggest an innovative solution could be
to move these vehicles to night time operations only - that way freeing
up the road networks during the day.
Does the UK
government really have the appetite to generate a sustainable economy
outside of and independent from London?
The CEO of Power Network
Operator commented that he believed that philosophically this question
is about motives and finance. Until the government really shows that
actually what they want to do is generate an economy that's outside of
and independent of London, he believes that the Northern Powerhouse
aspiration will surely crumble. “Even if HS2 is built linking the North
and the South it is essential that the politicians have cross-party
consensus on the importance of a long-term investment strategy for the
An Executive from a Premiership football club added to
the debate, “Why are the train operating companies not more flexible in
providing later trains in and out of London from cities located in the
North? In addition they went on to mention that the cost of travel,
particularly on peak-time train services in and out of London are
“eye-wateringly” expensive which in turn creates a cost burden for
organisations and a level of inertia for business transactions taking
place between the north and south of the country.
Northern Powerhouse aspiration will surely crumble
from a Women's Leadership Development and Mentoring organisation gave an
interesting alternative perspective based upon some research conducted
on gender in transport. The research suggests that men often look at a
journey in a very linear way e.g. to work and back or to a sporting
event and back. Women however, have a lot more shorter journeys to make
to a multitude of places whether it's the health centre, schools or
local shopping etc.
The second area that the research highlighted
was that women are also worried about evening travel, in particular the
threat of violence or sexual harassment on trains. Therefore, they don't
like to travel late at night or if they do, they want it to be well
lit and well accessed.
The third interesting point from the
research was that women tend to be more interested in sustainable
transport, such as walking and cycling.
In recognising the
significant performance improvements that result from having diverse
teams there is a tremendous opportunity for the government to
incorporate these factors i.e. work closer to home, access to well-lit
and well-constructed, multi-dimensional transportation, when developing
a strategy for the North.
Our final guest to comment was the
CEO of a healthcare business who highlighted the importance of
investment in local networks as well as National networks. He lives a
10 minute drive from his office in Skipton, yet it would take him an
hour and a half using the rail network.
He raised the question of
whether competition was healthy or whether greater control under one
entity maybe the way forward thereby encouraging collaboration,
communication and control. The obvious parallel he drew was with the
NHS and although he believes it is poorly managed, the philosophy of its
existence to serve grass roots is absolutely right.
The importance of greater connectivity
between the North and South and even more importantly between the East and
West of the country cannot be underestimated. The emphasis of the
discussion was mainly focussed on the rail sector, which was not
surprising given the recent Northern Rail debacle. However, it is
essential for businesses to thrive in the North; politicians in London
across all parties need to commit to a long-term investment strategy in
the whole transport infrastructure of the regions to ensure sustained
growth and prosperity for the UK.