When is no news good news?

Posted by Neil Ashbridge

Mon 03rd, Dec

The news is a pretty glum affair at the moment with a different soundbite seemingly driving the headlines every day and political commentators jostling to put their own particular spin on the day's events, generally a negative one. The ongoing debate around Brexit has only amplified the paucity of informative and objective news content which appears to have been replaced instead by speculation and conjecture - the only certainty appears to be uncertainty. Those of us not engaged in Westminster spin or without aspirations to be the next PM, can only look on with disbelief.

Even more frustrating is the fact that little else appears to be happening to address the fundamental issues which drive our economy and social wellbeing, create employment opportunities and investment and support longer term growth. A stark example of this is the level of investment in transport infrastructure, particularly in our region, which remains the key concern for businesses across the North especially as the latest government figures suggest that whilst transport spending per person has risen significantly in the North West in the last year, it remains approximately twice as high in London as in the North as a whole.

Transport for the North is pressing forward with its strategic transport plan to deliver improvements across the whole of our transport system including road, rail, sea and air, but without any devolved funding this remains more of a long term vision, despite progress in some areas. Business needs to get behind the proposals to provide a strong business case for more investment in the North, including support for our freight and logistics sector as well as reducing commuting times to broaden access to both jobs and opportunities.  The announcement that rail fares are to rise by 3.1% on average from 1 January is a further blow to those who rely on rail to commute - where is the value for money? 

A recent report by the Urban Transport Group reinforced the importance of transport in these areas, particularly in post industrial urban centres. It also highlighted the need for a more co-ordinated programme of transport capital and revenue investment and support, as isolated capital interventions in transport infrastructure are insufficient in themselves. The launch of the Strategic Investment Fund by Steve Rotherham provides an excellent opportunity to do just that at a local level and potentially gives local businesses more of a say in where investment should be prioritised. There will be around half a billion pounds available to support projects in areas such as transport infrastructure, economic development, business growth, skills, culture and housing and we look forward to working with the Metro Mayor's team to support delivery of the Fund.

Despite the national headlines therefore, the local news is much more upbeat, as businesses simply get on with it. My Chamber colleagues and I have attended a number of events and round table discussions over the past few weeks and the general level of optimism about the future for the Liverpool city region is particularly heartening and is reflected in the number of positive news stories from our members. The willingness of local politicians, not only to listen to the voice of business, but to actively seek it out, should also be applauded. Perhaps we could apply some of that political pragmatism to the national debate on Brexit - just a thought!

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