Luke Pollard MP: Autumn Budget is a chance to give the South West it’s fair share for transport
The South West is not asking for more money than anywhere else - just its fair share, argues Luke Pollard MP.
Last week familiar news hit the South West as incoming ‘Storm Brian’ on the coast cancelled multiple Cross-country services out of Plymouth past Newton Abbot and through Exeter.
Three years have passed since the 2014 storms that washed the train line in Dawlish into the sea. These storms should have been the wakeup call the government needed. Instead, over three years from David Cameron’s announcement that “money is no object,” our train line is just as precarious as before.
I’m proud to have be born and live in Plymouth. Our city is world-class in so many areas. But one familiar memory I had growing up was the time to took to get anywhere else in the UK. Running for Parliament, improving transport links has always been the most obvious issue that needs fixing to bring jobs, investment and growth to the region.
The funding gap for transport in the South West is real. The Treasury’s Country and Regional Analysis publication shows in 2015-16 spending on transport in London is 3.5 times that spent in the South West, relative to population. Add in other budgets and it is much greater a differential than that.
Stats like this help evidence the real and growing sense that the far South West doesn’t get its fair share. I don’t mind London having another tube line or Crossrail for the North, so long as we the South West gets our fair share too. We do not want more funding than anywhere else, just our fair share.
But there’s a chance to change this and this is what my debate is about today. The Peninsular Rail Task Force, a group set up by Conservative council’s in the wake of the 2014 storms has identified an opportunity that presents itself in the Autumn Budget to allocate £30m and shave three minutes off the journey between Plymouth and Exeter.
With a Benefit to Cost Ratio of 6.07, this is a bargain for the improvements in economic productivity it will deliver and will make a serious statement about the importance of rail upgrades in the region for this Government. The whole upgrade programme for the region is £9bn but £30m will show the government is serious about cutting journey times and addressing our peripherality.
I’ve always thought there is little that is party political or ideological about improving transport, it rather seems common sense. Labour’s record hasn’t been perfect either. That’s why I’ve always sought to work cross-party to improve transport links the South West needs. But now Labour has allocated £2.5bn to fund all immediate asks contained in the Peninsular Rail Task Force report, it’s time for the current Government to do the same.
The South West is not asking for more money than anywhere else - just its fair share. If we continue to suffer from poor transport links, we risk losing jobs and missing the chance to protect and grow the economy in the South West and I am eager to make the case in Westminster hall today. It’s time we got our fair share and today’s debate could be the start of it.
Luke Pollard is the Labour Member of Parliament for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport