THE Chancellor has been told to fund rail improvements which could help reduce a record North-South employment divide.
Unemployment figures out this week revealed the gap between the number of people out of work in the North of England and the South East is the widest on record.
Now think tank IPPR North has set out the five areas in which the Government could spend a small fraction of the money going into High Speed Rail and instead help to create at least 20,000 jobs in the region.
In a damning report on the state of the region’s railways, IPPR says many of the carriages in the North are in a poor state.
Researchers say some 87% of the commuter trains used by Northern Rail across Tyneside, Northumberland and Durham were built in the 1980s or earlier and have called for an urgent review into rolling stock requirements.
They point out that the aged and often second-hand trains used in Northern franchises compare unfavourably with those in the South, where on some lines up to 64% of the trains used were built in the last decade.
Also included on their transport advice to the Chancellor is a plea for a greater commitment to electrification of the Transpennine railway.
In a report published today, the think tank argues that if the Government committed to investing £560m in the Northern Hub railway development improving connections between Manchester and Leeds, this would lead to faster, more frequent trains between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle, with a £4 boost to the economy for every £1 spent.
Ed Cox, director of IPPR North, said if the Government was serious about helping the region the Chancellor should commit to investing in job creation in the North of England in his Budget, due out next week.
Mr Cox said: “Transport investment in the North is vital if we want to see economic growth and people coming off benefits and into employment.
“The link between better transport infrastructure and regional economic growth is clear. Not only does immediate investment create local jobs, but improved transport results in time savings to journeys and greater economic dynamism.”
The think tank’s calls are among many urging the Chancellor to back job creation efforts when he delivers his Budget on March 21.
James Ramsbotham, chief executive at the North East Chamber of Commerce, said the IPPR report revealed the potential the region had to contribute to economic growth if the Government invested in its railways and roads.
Mr Ramsbotham, said: “We have stated that the North East is not a problem for the rest of the UK to solve, rather we are an under-used resource that is bursting with untapped potential.
“Our increasingly impressive export performance is proof that with the correct support in the correct areas the North East does deliver.”
Network Rail submitted a proposal for the Northern Hub to Government in September 2011 as part of the Initial Industry Plan and expects a decision from Government by summer 2012.
A spokeswoman said: “We have welcomed Government's announcement to electrify the Transpennine route, which will create a cleaner, faster and more reliable railway for passengers with much-needed additional capacity.
“The investment will improve transport links between key cities across the North, better connecting people to places of work and leisure.
“Electrifying the North Transpennine route is essential if we are to reduce the cost of running and maintaining the railway whilst improving services for customers.”
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GOING OFF THE RAILS
TRAIN punctuality worsened last month, with the two main London to Scotland operators being the poorest-performing companies, it has been revealed.
A total of 91.6% of trains ran on time between February 5 and March 3, compared with a figure of 92.5% for the same period last year, according to Network Rail (NR).
The East Coast company ran only 86.1% of trains on time last month, while Virgin Trains – which operates the West Coast line – had a punctuality figure of 87.4%.
The East Coast figure for February 2012 was an improvement on its 82.5% trains-on-time performance in February 2011.
NR said around 40% of the delays on the East Coast last month were down to external factors with fatalities affecting punctuality.
The best-performing company last month was London Overground, which ran 97.0% of trains on time.
Earlier this week, NR chief executive Sir David Higgins told the House of Commons transport committee it might not be possible to improve long-distance train punctuality without harming commuter services.
He said the West Coast line was extremely busy and had become “the M25 of the railways“.