Already there is a firm target for our city region to become carbon neutral by 2038, requiring all parts of our economy to achieve an ambitious 15 per cent cut in emissions year-on-year on average. Industry will play its part, we at Siemens for example will be carbon neutral by 2030. Greater Manchester already hosts the Made Smarter Pilot, a £20m industry and government programme to support the digitalisation of small manufacturing companies across the North West, aiming for 25% sector growth through tech adoption. This is in addition to a thriving local digital economy which is host to hundreds of new small starts ups already.
With that said, something has been missing for quite some time.
Businesses large and small, their employees and many others have long been calling for an integrated, modern and accessible public transport network for Greater Manchester. And having one is vital if we really are to have a meaningful industrial strategy locally and nationally. Indeed, we can have ambitious green targets matched by a commitment to invest in the latest tech for industry, but it is largely meaningless if we do not have an integrated transport network to underpin these worthwhile goals.
The recent ‘Our Network’ announcements made by the mayor of Greater Manchester regarding the integration of the city-regions transport network should be welcome as an important step towards greening our economy and increasing our local productivity.
The advantages are clear - it brings together different modes of public transport – bus, tram, rail, tram-train – and cycling and walking in an integrated, simple system with seamless connections, simplified ticketing - something that is already enjoyed in many cities. I know this from personal experience, living in Didsbury, I often end up taking a car into the city, because there isn’t an app to give me the full end-to-end offer and I can’t easily buy one ticket for the whole journey, which might need a tram, train and bus. In London, where this is possible, I would never dream of taking my car for any journey and it is ease of information, booking and payment that makes this the obvious choice.
We already know that intracity public transport is essential for the local economy, helping the movement of people and goods across a diverse local economy.
Congestion, for instance costs us £3.5bn per annum and a lack of coherence causes confusion for the traveling public as well as inward investors who see transport integration as a key part of economic growth in the coming years.
More is to be done of course. What we have now is a plan, a series of credible proposals but not the power to deliver on them in full.
The reality is that local power to make important decisions regarding transport doesn’t go anywhere near far enough. Greater Manchester Combined Authority needs devolved powers and funding required to deliver this integrated network, in the same way many other cities do across Europe. It’s important because right now we have an excellent Local Industrial Strategy framework that can deliver innovation and productivity for this region, but it can only truly come to life if it is underpinned by genuine devolved transport integration.
That’s why we should all advocate the National Infrastructure Commission’s recommendation that Government invests an extra £43bn in cities outside London, enables long-term devolved budgets, and supports major new transport projects in the fastest growing and most congested cities outside of London. There is also need for long-term devolved budgets which should be a real focus for the next Spending Review commissioned by the Treasury.
These are all ‘oven ready’ policies the new UK government can run with quickly if it has the courage to do so.
Put simply, Greater Manchester can be at centre of innovation, new industry and better standards of living if it is given the power to take charge of its own destiny when it comes to transport policy. We could lead on digital transport networks, pioneering the latest internet of things technologies by connecting our varying transport assets together in the virtual as well as physical world, delivering major benefits across the city region.
Afterall, shouldn’t the city that opened the world’s first inter-city rail station be the one that is trusted to deliver the next leaps in productivity and innovation for employers and employees alike?