A comment on the UK government's Levelling Up White Paper from Kevin Bell, Partner in the transport team at transatlantic law firm Womble Bond Dickinson. Kevin is also a member of the Transport Forums of both the North East England Chamber of Commerce and the West & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce.

Kevin said:

"As someone who cares passionately about the key role that public transport plays in connecting and transforming our towns and cities, boosting our economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and delivering even more education and job opportunities, it is positive to hear that at the heart of the Government's Levelling Up White Paper is the "national mission" to ensure that by 2030 public transport connectivity across the UK is "significantly closer to the standards of London" including improved services, integrated ticketing and simpler fares."

Positive step-change

"On the face of it, this is great news for the general fare paying public. They are being promised a step-change in public transport provision, starting with ambitious plans for bus improvements in areas where it is suggested the most impact can be made, such as Luton, Portsmouth, Stoke-on-Trent, Derbyshire and Warrington. The White Paper also goes further and promises a huge shift in power from Whitehall to local leaders in what has been dubbed the "devolution revolution". This is important, as devolution in transport matters on a practical level. It can bring real and tangible improvements to local transport and to the everyday lives of ordinary people. With devolution of more powers and funding, people can enjoy more and better rail, tram and bus services and improved fares and ticketing options (and thus cheaper and more convenient travel)."

Reheated plans

"But scratch beneath the surface of the headline announcements and there is very little detail as to how the Government will achieve this "national mission". Although some critics are already denouncing the White Paper as a series of slogans and "reheated" plans, the Government can nevertheless point to the National Bus Strategy, the Transport Decarbonisation Plan, the Integrated Rail Plan and the transport settlements in eight city regions outside London as existing evidence of its commitment to addressing regional transport inequalities and delivering the levelling up agenda."

The bottom line

"Yet, when it comes down to it, the bottom line is … well, just that, the bottom line. How will this all be funded? We all know that there is not an awful lot of money sloshing about in the coffers of the Treasury and rumour has it that the Chancellor has already killed off a number of transformational ideas that were included in previous drafts of the White Paper. Add to that the fact that only last month we heard in the press that funding had been slashed in half (from £3bn to just £1.4bn) for the Government's "Bus Back Better" strategy and you soon realise that difficult decisions will have to be made if those regions outside London and the South East are going to be able to deliver the green, reliable and affordable transport networks that its people deserve."