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Who Really Has The Most Spent On Their Transport, London Or The North?


Crossrail 2 is back in the headlines this week, and so the debate re-emerged about transport spending in different regions of the U.K.

The U.K. has a finite pot of money to spend on infrastructure projects. If it pays half the cost of Crossrail 2, a cheque estimated at about £15B, it cannot spend that money on other parts of the country. The two are not necessarily linked, but a plan to electrify rail lines in the North of England to reduce journey times was cancelled recently.

Every part of the country argues its project is the most pressing, and will bring the greatest economic benefit to the entire nation. And the accusation is always levelled that London receives more than its fair share of the spending that is undertaken by the government.

It should be easy to work out which bit of the U.K. receives the most spending on its transport infrastructure, right? Wrong.

The figure usually brought out as an argument against London is the amount spent per head on transport in different regions of the U.K.

Statistics website Statista produced this chart in 2014 using data from HM Treasury to show that when it came to transport projects that involve public funding, London received £2,596 per head compared to just £5 per head in the North East, and £99 per head in the North West.

Infographic: The UK’s Extraordinary Imbalance in Transport Expenditure | Statista 

In February this year the Institute for Public Policy North, a think tank, updated this figure for the period 2016-2021, and analysed data from the Treasury and the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, the National Infrastructure and Construction Pipeline Spreadsheet, Autumn 2016 update, and the Office for National Statistics Subnational Population Projections for Local Authorities in England.

It came up with a figure of £1,943 to be spent per head over that period in London, compared to an average of £582 outside of London. The North West saw the second highest spend at £682 per head.

It argued that as much as anything the North needs be given the power to invest its transport budget, as Transport for London does, and to raise money through the bond market.


But last week London Mayor Sadiq Khan weighed into the debate and lobbed a different way of looking at the figures into the ring to argue that London actually gets less than its fair share of transport infrastructure spending.

The Greater London Authority produced a report, Transport expenditure in London, which argued that if you look at the number of journeys undertaken in London compared to the amount spent, London actually gets less funding than the national average. For rail, the figure is £6.94 per journey compared to a national average of £10.31.

This puts London at the bottom end of the scale, with Wales and the North East at the top — a complete reversal of the 2014 Statista analysis.

“To compare transport spending in London with any other U.K. region is just not comparing like with like and this report well and truly debunks the myth that we receive more than our fair share,” Khan said.

Of course, there is a certain amount of ingrained bias in the analysis produced by self-interested bodies like IPP North and the GLA.

Wherever the government spends its money, someone is going to be unhappy.