Next Government’s priority has to be a physical and digital infrastructure revolution

Posted by Jenny Stewart

Chief Executive of Liverpool & Sefton Chambers of Commerce

Fri 12th, May

We now live and work simultaneously in two worlds - the physical and the virtual - and investment in both is essential for our future growth and prosperity.

In the last few days, issues at the top of the election agenda have been Brexit, as always, and immigration.

But let's also think about things nearer to home. Investment in domestic infrastructure is critical. Not only in transport and skills but connectivity in the wider sense of a digital infrastructure. 

Productivity gap

We recently published the results of the chamber's Quarterly Economic Survey and spoke about the productivity gap in the north. 

We have the energy and enthusiasm and know-how to close that gap but we are also being held back by a lack of physical and virtual (digital) infrastructure investment.

According to the Institute for Public Policy research, the current national infrastructure pipeline shows that there is a £1,515 per capita gap in projected spending between London and the North.

Digital slow lane

18% of UK businesses don’t have a reliable internet connection. When you consider how much that affects productivity, it's unacceptable in 2017. 

I can speak from personal experience. Internet coverage in my home, just a couple of miles from Liverpool city centre, is frankly non-existent. Less than 2mb, means that I rely on the 4G network, to stay in touch, and follow up with members when I am at home. 

At a recent event with the Chamber, the city’s elected Mayor Joe Anderson asked our members to tell him what they needed to enable them to grow their businesses. 

A lack of decent digital connectivity was one of the major issues raised.

Port investment 

Peel Ports has put its money where its mouth is by investing £400m in the new Liverpool2 deep water port facility.

It has the potential to revolutionise the UK’s logistics market by attracting many of the imported goods that currently arrive at Southern ports to instead come in through the Mersey.

We could see thousands of jobs created in the logistics sector across the North West but for that to work we need a transport infrastructure that is able to cope with this massive surge in freight traffic.

That means investment in both the road and rail networks.

Capacity call

Sometimes the question is asked: Would we prefer the HS2 high-speed rail link to London, or the HS3 line across the North of England? The obvious answer is we need both.

We need every inch of extra rail capacity we can get our hands on.

I think many of us would agree that when we get on a train we need three things. 1. A seat 2. Wifi 3. A cup of coffee. Getting there quicker isn't necessarily a problem, just get us there on time. If the time spent travelling can be spent comfortably and productively, then we as business people will use that time gratefully to work without the normal interruptions of busy office life. 

In the north however, our journey times to our closest cities are appalling.  A journey of 80 miles can take longer than getting to London. I often ask members to imagine an infrastructure such as the London Tube, with its 250 miles of track being placed over Manchester, with connections to Liverpool to the West and Sheffield to the East. The connectivity encourages business growth, creates jobs and allows people to choose where they live and work. It connects our northern population of 15 million and if you think about it, some whole countries don't even have a population that big! Now that's a powerhouse economy- a northern powerhouse! 

The election manifesto for the British Chambers of Commerce calls on the next Government to “revolutionise” the UK’s physical and digital infrastructure.

Here in the Liverpool city region we would add that the revolution needs to focus on the areas where it is needed the most - here in the North.

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