In London, our world-famous Underground system and bus network have been one of the keys to our capital’s success, helping to attract jobs, businesses and investment.
I fully support calls for Yorkshire and our other great regions across the country to benefit from ‘London-style’ transport networks that could help local companies to grow, residents to thrive and communities to flourish.
Investment in parts of our country, like Yorkshire, that have long been overlooked and under-served should be a national priority. I completely back the notion of levelling up when it’s about meaningful and sustained investment in public transport infrastructure.
Where I differ with the Government is the approach it’s taking. Not only is the Government repeatedly failing to keep its promises on transport investment in places like Yorkshire, but Ministers seem to think it’s simply enough to divert funding away from London to try to satisfy voters in the Midlands and the North – making London poorer to make our country more equal. This is not only misguided, but dishonest and potentially hugely damaging.
Running Transport for London (TfL) into the ground – as the Government is threatening to do by starving our capital’s transport authority of the funding it needs – is not going to suddenly improve people’s lives in Yorkshire or anywhere else. On the contrary, by levelling down London, the Government risks levelling down regions like Yorkshire too. Let me explain why that’s the case.
Yesterday, I visited the brilliant Siemens factory in Goole, East Yorkshire, to see the work that’s currently ongoing to manufacture 94 new Tube trains, which from 2025 will replace London’s existing Piccadilly Line carriages that date back to the 1970s.
We don’t have the skills and expertise to do this ourselves. This is a prime example of how investment in London, and in TfL, is an investment in the wider UK economy, with the cutting-edge Siemens facility employing up to 700 Yorkshiremen and women in engineering and manufacturing roles, as well as an extra 250 workers during the construction phase and 1,700 more in the broader supply chain.
With 55p of every pound invested in London’s Underground system spent outside our capital, these are exactly the kind of jobs that could be put at risk if the Government continues to play politics with TfL’s finances.
In Yorkshire, it’s not just jobs at the Siemens facility in Goole that will be under threat by Government policies. Jobs at Switch Mobility in Sherburn-in-Elmet, which I had the pleasure of visiting last year and which manufactures state-of-the-art electric buses for TfL, could also be lost if the Government insists on cutting support in London. This is why it is vital that Ministers don’t fall into the trap of thinking that they can invest in the rest of the country by levelling London down. Clipping London’s wings will not help Yorkshire, the north of England or the Midlands to prosper. The truth is that when London does well, the rest of the UK does well – and vice versa.
Prior to the pandemic, our capital city made an annual net contribution of £38.7bn to the Treasury. This is money that can – and often is – spent on public services around the country. As it should be. So instead of restricting funding to London and, in the process, undermining our national economy, the Government should be focusing on how it can level up the North and the Midlands in conjunction with our capital. To put it another way, rather than duping people into thinking there’s intense competition for pieces of the cake, the Government should be talking about how we can grow the whole cake – for the benefit of London, Yorkshire and the rest of the UK.
Playing our cities and regions off against one another is a cheap trick that comes straight out of the populist, divide-and-rule playbook. We must be on our guard against anyone trying to peddle this form of reactionary politics. Not only because it entrenches division and exacerbates resentment, but because it is no answer to the critical challenge of how we unlock the potential of all our towns, cities and regions, which is surely our patriotic duty.
This isn’t about trickle-down economics. It’s about ensuring that investment in London continues to flow out to the North and to communities in every corner of our country – just as investment in the North helps to support jobs in London and nationwide. I am grateful for this every time I am on a train or bus made in other parts on the UK.
Over the next few months, I’d appeal to The Yorkshire Post’s readers, businesses and politicians to join with me in calling on the Government to agree a fair, long-term funding deal for TfL, because this is self-evidently in the interests of our capital and our country’s prosperity.
Sadiq Khan is the mayor of London and a Labour politician.
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