Nielsen: get the West Midlands moving and our productivity will motor too
Integrated transport is a vital element of our productivity challenge in the West Midlands, says LibDem candidate for Metro Mayor Beverley Nielsen. In the first of a series of guest blogs from the candidates, Ms Nielsen tackles the issue which was highlighted by Centre for Cities earlier today as the main priority for the incoming Mayor.
Reading the West Midlands Combined Authority economic plan for the region, our productivity challenge is expressed as an output gap.
It states, ‘this is attributable to the large number of low value companies in low growth sectors, the low business birth and survival rates in some areas, and the comparatively high number and proportion of residents with low skills and in many cases no formal qualifications.’
I disagree with the premise behind this statement written in a document promoting our region, called ‘Making our Mark’. The biggest single thing that could be done to improve our productivity would be to drive investment in our infrastructure and deliver an integrated transport solution. Especially after years of being by-passed by national governments of both parties.
In addition we also must have more skills aimed at meeting manufacturing and business need to build home made success and more affordable housing. We need to train our millennials for real jobs based here. If women participated in management and leadership positions in equal numbers to men, this factor alone is projected by McKinsey to add £600bn to UK GDP in 2025. As mayor these will be top priorities in driving productivity growth.
Our output gap is due, in large part, to government under-investment in the heart of the country and in the country’s manufacturing heartlands.
We have for the past 30 years not had our fair share of national resource invested in our roads, rail and an integrated system. Moving our people and goods to market is very challenging as a result.
We have a £3bn annual cost of congestion. Last year we had £266 per head invested in our public transport system compared to £1869 in London. £30bn less has been invested in the Midlands over the past nine years compared with London. This does not include Crossrail 1 and 2, adding an additional £50bn; they are counted as national schemes.
Meanwhile we carry 80% of all rail freight and over 30% of all road freight through the West Midlands.
The M6 Toll, which I lobbied for over many years whilst director of the CBI West Midlands as the Northern Relief Route, is not as fully integrated as it needs to be. Taking 50k vehicles a day this is leading to more strain on the M6 which carries around 160-170k vehicles daily.
As many as 25k of these daily are through traffic which could be diverted via the M6Toll. More heavy goods vehicles still could be using the M6Toll. Estimates suggest 36k daily could be diverted.
Making the road ‘free’ as has been suggested is not the solution. Why would government pay for this investment, due to cost at least £1.8bn if brought into state ownership? Why should the people and business of the WM have to pay more in Council Tax and rates? Especially when social care, adult education, our local services, the NHS are all under such pressure following austerity. We need to bring the M6Toll more fully into the picture.
If the M54-M6Toll link were completed this could move a further 4k vehicles onto the Toll road and off the M6 the Toll operators suggest. Better information on our Key Route Network, such as the A38 and A34, would help locals using the M6 to divert onto local roads with confidence rather than simply opting for the M6.
The FTA says that the cost of queuing for an average 44 tonne truck is £1 per minute. The RHA states that every time a lorry stops it costs and extra 50p just to accelerate back up to speed.
Making more information available sooner to heavy vehicles driving north and south through the West Midlands would clearly motivate them to move via the M6Toll rather than get snarled up on the very heavily used M6.
This requires a much greater degree of collaboration and co-working protocols between Highways England, WM Police, Transport for West Midlands, Midlands Connect, M6Toll, Local Authorities. All their control centres need to have an integrated system connected to each other and to electronic overhead information notices and apps that can connect directly with road users.
If we can keep the M6 and the motorway box moving we will enable people and goods to make their meetings and delivery slots on time. This will reduce the estimated £3bn a year cost of congestion and help productivity. Get the West Midlands moving and our productivity will motor too.
Beverley Nielsen is the LibDem candidate for West Midlands Mayor. She is standing against James Burn (Green), Pete Durnell (Lib Dem), Siôn Simon (Labour) and Andy Street (Conservative). All five main candidates will feature in our Public Debates starting on 7th March.
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