I should like to begin by congratulating Mrs Ellman, the Chair of our Select Committee, on securing this debate and opening it this afternoon. The contributions so far have been varied, covering a wide range of transport issues from up and down the country. I want to concentrate on the specific elements of the Committee’s “Transport and the economy” report that deal with the role of transport in rebalancing the economy.
During this time of economic uncertainty, transport must be a key factor in stimulating growth. To their credit, the coalition Government have learned from the mistakes made by previous Governments during economic downturns and prioritised investment in transport infrastructure. While other Departments saw an average reduction in capital expenditure of 29%, the transport capital programme was reduced by only 11%, with Treasury forecasts that by 2014-15 capital investment would be higher in real terms than it was in 2005-06. This has meant that a number of capital schemes have been able to go ahead that would almost certainly have faced the axe in previous economic downturns.
As a northern MP representing south Manchester, I welcome the Government’s commitment to economic rebalancing and reducing the north-south divide. This received a cautious welcome, I would say, in the Select Committee report. Transport funding has consistently favoured London and the south-east to the detriment of areas of the north and the south-west. If we are to see a rebalancing of the economy, this needs to be reflected in current and future transport funding.