Following new figures from railways regulator, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), showing the level of subsidy received by the operators of various rail franchises across the country, analysis by IPPR North shows how – while the operators of the two main franchises within the North tend to receive more subsidy – the total spent by Government on rail in the North is far lower and is being cut by more, while London’s expenditure rises.
In 2013-14, rail spending per head across the north was £84, compared to London’s £298, and the UK average of £105.
Despite 23.5 per cent of the UK’s population living in the North in 2013, it received only 18.8 per cent of the UK’s expenditure on railways in 2013/14.
In turn London, with only 13.1 per cent of the UK’s population, received 36.8 per cent of the spending.
Between 2012-13 and 2013-14, expenditure in the north was cut by £47 m while spending in London rose by £224m.
If, over the past five years, the north’s per head expenditure on rail had equalled the average across all UK regions, it would have risen by £1.9 billion (27.9 per cent) from £6.8 billion, to £8.7 billion.
The figures come as key projects in the Northern Powerhouse and Northern Hub are paused, delayed or shelved.
In isolation these ORR figures might appear to show that the south is “subsidising” the rail services of people in the north.
But this is just a small part of a bigger picture on rail spending – more comprehensive Government figures show that that spending per capita on rail is far higher and increasing in London, while in the north spending is lower than average and has been cut.
Due to a long history of under-investment, northern passengers still travel to work on overcrowded Pacer trains and face sluggish journey times and connections between major towns and cities.
If the north is to grow and prosper then it needs the investment in a modern, efficient rail network.
But the Government’s infrastructure pipeline and recent announcements indicate that that the historic investment gap looks set to get worse, not improve.
This highlights the need for some of these responsibilities to be devolved.
If the north is to truly fulfil its economic potential then it can’t be entirely dependent on Government, and more decisions about the north’s transport infrastructure should be made in the north by the new Transport for the North organisation.
IPPR North Research Fellow.