The North of England risks failing to deliver on its economic growth potential without government and private sector investment in road capacity and freight-readiness for rail, according to a new report published by independent law firm Brabners.
In the new report, Supply Chain: The future of the North, Brabners calls upon manufacturers, retailers and logistics operators in the North to lobby devolved and central powers to ensure future infrastructure investment in the region isn’t delayed indefinitely as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
According to IPPR North, transport spending in the region per head represents only a quarter of the amount that is spent in London – and significantly less than across the South as a whole. Up to £70billion of investment has been earmarked by Transport for the North for developing strategic transport networks such as the M62 and Northern Powerhouse Rail between now and 2050. However, there are concerns that the economic impact of COVID-19 may slow the speed of investment, which would have a substantial knock-on effect for the growth potential of the region’s key export industries, including automotive and pharmaceuticals manufacturing.
The report, which features contributions from key regional investor Peel Group as well as major frontline network users such as leading international metal recycler EMR and food distributor NWF Group, identifies east-west connectivity as a major obstacle to business growth. With road remaining the most affordable but also a congested approach to moving goods in the North, the report calls for improved loading gauges on existing trans-Pennine rail routes. This type of investment would increase the viability of freight transport by rail and reduce the carbon footprint of goods that typically travel by road.
In the report, Brabners also identifies the vital impact of Brexit on northern import and export businesses as they look to capitalise on new international trading relationships through key regional assets such as Manchester Airport and the Port of Liverpool.
Launching the report, Roy Barry, head of manufacturing and supply chain at Brabners, said: “As we face into the economic recovery ahead, it’s clear that much of the lifeblood of the North lies in its ports, airports, industrial estates, distribution parks and the arterial routes that serve them. As such, much more needs to be done to make the region’s freight and logistics infrastructure fit for purpose and ready for growth.
“The economic impact of coronavirus will undoubtedly be a major obstacle – and much like Brexit, a distraction of government focus – to the future progress of the regional economy. However, in more sure-footed times, we must remember that the ball was firmly placed in the government’s court via the 2019 general election, with a clear obligation to deliver on its promise of levelling up the playing field in the UK. Whilst we welcome the new deal recovery plans announced by Boris Johnson, they must translate into an equitable distribution of support measures that directly benefit the regional economy.
“Whatever shape the economic recovery from COVID-19 takes, and in whatever form we leave the EU over the next 12 months (or longer), the region must stand ready to do business and make the most of the shift in international trading relationships that have traditionally benefitted London and the South. With the right support, the North’s private sector – our ports, airports, manufacturers, landowners, property developers, constructors, urban planners and logistics operators – can all lead the way in ensuring this opportunity is taken.”