New report calls for improved commuter links

Commuting for an hour by public transport in Newcastle increases the number of accessible jobs to only 1.28 for every one job available within five miles. Doing the same in London increase the number to 3.7.

The equivalent ratio is 1.34 in Glasgow, 1.50 in the West Midlands and 1.62 in Greater Manchester, according to a report published today by the centre-right think tank Onward supported by the Levelling Up Taskforce group of 65 Conservative MPs.

‘This suggests that some of Britain’s largest regional cities by population have public transport networks that are suboptimal, undermining their productivity and reducing economic opportunity’ says the report. ‘This reinforces other studies showing that the UK’s regional cities are less productive than European counterparts.’

It adds: ‘In some of Britain’s most important regional cities, public transport barely improves access to jobs at all. In Newcastle and Glasgow, an hour on public transport boosts job access by a third. This compares to London where public transport nearly quadruples local jobs access.’

The report finds similar problems in towns and villages across the country as well as in the main regional cities. It suggests that spending dedicated to public transport could be much better directed towards improving jobs access in both towns and cities in the regions rather than improving transport in places that are already well-connected.

It warns however that improved transport alone will not solve the economic problems of the regions. It may have been a mistake for successive governments to have placed considerable emphasis on transport investment to unlock growth, with transport projects typically scoring higher [than other economic investments] on benefit cost ratios.

‘Our research suggests that this may be a mistake, as transport connectivity to jobs appears to have little overall bearing on the average income and productivity of a place’.

‘Only a small share of the local variation in median incomes is explained by the number of jobs accessible within 90 minutes by public transport, and access to jobs by car is not at all related to income,’ it says. 

‘Differences in income are far better explained by qualification levels and the mix of occupations and industries than by connectivity to jobs. These three combined account for over four-fifths of the variation in median income between places.

‘This suggests that further transport investments will struggle to improve incomes and living standards in a place without addressing other economic fundamentals like education and the quality of jobs available’.

Richard Holden, Conservative MP for North West Durham and committee member of the Levelling Up Parliamentary Taskforce, said: ‘This excellent report highlights clearly the challenges faced by those in our towns and villages of accessing opportunities for both education and employment. 

‘Conservative MPs like me were elected to level up opportunity for people in our overlooked towns and villages, that means ensuring that younger people and those on low incomes don’t need to move away in order to fulfil their potential. It’s vital that ministers take note of this report and use it as the basis for further policy to help spread opportunity across our country.’