The cuts are likely to lead to the winding down of TfN’s integrated and smart travel programme as well as job losses.
Although yet to be finally agreed, the Department for Transport has set out its intention to award less than half the funds that TfN pitched for in its spending review bid last year. It includes a cut in TfN’s core funding from £10m to £6m, and the loss of £33m of smart travel funding for rolling out contactless payment systems on public transport.
TfN board members expressed disappointment at the decision. They say the budget cuts are coming at a time when the levelling-up agenda – as well as supporting an economic recovery from Covid-19 – is needed more than ever.
Iain Craven, finance director at Transport for the North, said: “Transport for the North’s board has clearly indicated it’s disappointment and concern that, a time when the government’s levelling up agenda is needed most, funding is being cut, putting northern investment and jobs at risk. It falls substantially short of what we outlined the north would need to level-up infrastructure and accelerate benefits to the region.
“There is a real worry that this signals a diminishing ambition for the north, rather than pump-priming the region’s economic recovery.
“Establishing Transport for the North was a symbolic moment for devolving power to northern leaders, one that fully supports the levelling-up agenda. Our members have clearly indicated the ambition that, over time, TfN should have a greater role and more oversight of investment, but the opposite is proposed.”
Civil engineering contractors fear it could all mean less work for them. Alasdair Reisner, chief executive of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association, said: “This is very disappointing news, and we would urge the government to reconsider pulling promised investment from a body that has done more than any other to develop a cohesive vision for future transport across northern England.
“The Conservative party won a majority in 2019 in part through promising a ‘levelling up’ agenda on the economy. Part of these plans has always been to deliver an infrastructure revolution in the north, to create economic growth, boost connectivity, and create jobs.
“It is difficult to see how imposing budget cuts on Transport for the North, one of the most successful and ambitious sub-national transport bodies, will do anything other than undermine this agenda and set back the government’s stated policy of narrowing the economic gap between the southeast of England and the rest of the UK.”