With proper investment, TFL can support thousands of jobs and businesses around the country
As the Mayor of London, banging the drum for more investment in our city’s public transport network is an important part of my job.
It’s a task that you might expect to see me doing in the London borough of Brixton, rather than Ballymena. But yesterday I did exactly that – travelling to the historic town in Northern Ireland, which is now at the cutting-edge of green bus manufacturing - not only here in the UK, but around the world.
The reason I visited – to borrow a well-known line from one of Ballymena’s most famous sons, the film star Liam Neeson – is because workers at the town’s Wrightbus factory have a ‘very particular set of skills’. I’m talking about the green skills that enable Wrightbus to manufacture the most environmentally friendly buses on the market, which are helping us to tackle two of the biggest challenges we face today – toxic air pollution and the climate emergency.
In June last year, we rolled out England’s first hydrogen-powered, zero-emission, double decker buses to London’s streets after they were manufactured for us by workers in Ballymena. And now I’m lucky enough to have toured the same Wrightbus factory, getting a glimpse of the electric double decker buses the company is also making and which are set to arrive in our city later this year.
These are the first electric double decker buses to be manufactured for use in London and we’ve already placed an order for 30 of them, helping to bring around another 100 jobs to the Ballymena-based factory. This is on top of the approximately 800 jobs Transport for London (TfL) already helps to support at the site through its ongoing investment in zero emission buses.
Today, 99 per cent of the world’s electric buses are made in China so it’s fantastic that here in Northern Ireland you have a company that is at the very forefront of green innovation and mobility. I’m keen to continue buying British and doing what I can to support jobs and supply chains around the UK. However, the pandemic has blown a huge hole in TfL’s finances, meaning our transport authority is now reliant on the Government for financial support to maintain investment in our bus fleet and key transport infrastructure.
Regrettably, rather than compensate us in full for the fares revenue lost during the pandemic, when commuters were told to stay at home, the Government has instead insisted on major cuts being made to TfL. This also comes at a time when the Government is clearly determined to shift investment away from London for political reasons as part of its levelling up agenda.
While I’m a big advocate for boosting investment in other regions and parts of our country that have been neglected for too long, I fear the Government risks throwing the baby out with the bathwater by cutting transport funding to London that is crucial to supporting jobs, growth and businesses across the UK.
The reality is a smaller budget for TfL means less money for us to spend in places like Ballymena, and that poses a very real threat to jobs in Northern Ireland. It’s vitally important that ministers don’t get sucked into the trap of thinking that they can either invest in London or invest in the rest of the UK. This is a false choice. Clipping London’s wings will not help the north of England or Northern Ireland prosper. The truth is when London does well, the rest of the UK does well – and vice versa.
Today, TfL supports tens of thousands of jobs and countless businesses around the UK, like the Wrightbus factory, and 55 pence of every pound spent on the London Underground by TfL goes to firms and workers outside London. So, if you want to level-up other parts of the UK, the way to do it is not to starve London’s transport network of funding.
London has a fantastic relationship with its suppliers in all corners and nations of the United Kingdom and, with our target to become net zero by 2030, we have the ambition not only to place more orders for zero emission buses, but to significantly upgrade and decarbonise our transport infrastructure. This will help to create more highly-skilled green manufacturing jobs, as well as the prosperity that sustains communities the length and breadth of the UK.
What we don’t have, however, is certainty over the long-term capital funding we need to commit to these important investments. That’s why I’m appealing both to politicians and members of the public in Northern Ireland to lobby for TfL to get the long-term capital funding it desperately needs from the British Government. Without it, jobs in Ballymena and the UK’s economic recovery from this pandemic could be put at risk.
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