Jim McMahon – 2021 Comments on Government Announcement of Scrapping Rail Projects

The comments made by Jim McMahon, the Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, in the House of Commons on 18 November 2021.

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. We will be going out shortly to collect the plan and scrutinise it. I am frankly staggered by how this statement started, with the Secretary of State saying he was “proud” to present it to the House—proud of what? Is he proud of the betrayal of trust, the betrayal of promises and the betrayal of the investment that the north of England and the midlands deserve?

We have all seen the reports over the weekend, each one setting out the betrayal being put forward today. There is no amount of gloss or spin that can be put on it. The Secretary of State promised HS2 to Leeds. He promised Northern Powerhouse Rail. He promised that the north would not be forgotten, but he has not just forgotten us; he has completely sold us out.

As someone who lives in Greater Manchester, I am not going to take lectures on what Northern Powerhouse Rail means. We know exactly what it means. We were committing to a new line connecting Manchester and Leeds, and within a month of becoming Prime Minister, Boris Johnson said:

“I am going to deliver on my commitment with a pledge to fund the Leeds to Manchester route.”

We were promised a new line. He has broken that promise, and he has not even got the decency to admit it.

Let us be clear: the scaling back of Northern Powerhouse Rail, coupled with the scrapping of the eastern leg of HS2, is a massive blow for our regions. The schemes would have created 150,000 new jobs, connecting 13 million people in our major towns and cities in our industrial heartlands. The then-Chancellor George Osborne first announced plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail in 2014. Since then, the Conservatives, including the Prime Minister and the Transport Secretary, have recommitted and re-promised 60 times.

This is a once-in-a-generation chance to transform opportunity across the whole country, to rebalance the economy and make it work for working people, but that opportunity now looks set to be lost. They are the very same working people who will likely face a record increase when rail fares go up next year. They will be paying 50% more to get to work than they did a decade ago, relying on a crumbling, unreliable and overcrowded system that prioritises profit above passengers. It is the same with buses, with fares up 70%, use down and not a single one of the 4,000 zero-emission buses promised by the Prime Minister three years ago having been delivered.

What is on offer? Some £96 billion that we should be grateful for, but let us unpack that £96 billion, £40 billion of which has already been committed from London to Crewe, but is being labelled as investment across the north of England. Of the £56 billion that remains, if we compare that with what the north of England would have got over the past decade had it had the same investment as London and the south-east, we are still £10 billion short. We are not going to accept crumbs off the table.

Labour would reform our transport networks so that they work for working people, with investment spread more evenly across the country so that parents are not forced to see their children leave the places where they were raised to find opportunity that is denied on their doorstep. Most importantly, Labour would put working people first, using the power of Government and the skill of business to ensure good-quality jobs are created here and in every single region of Britain.

The Prime Minister was elected on a promise to level the playing field and make things better for households across the country. We were promised a northern powerhouse. We were promised a midlands engine. We were promised that we would be levelled up, but what we have been given today is the great train robbery—robbing the north of its chance to realise its full potential, robbing the next generation of the hope and opportunity they are due and robbing 15 million people across the north of the investment they have been denied for 11 years under this rotten Government.