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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Autumn Statement commits to rail projects but concerns remain

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Yesterday, Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt delivered his Autumn Statement which included a number of measures related to transport infrastructure, the railway industry and rail supply businesses.

A key takeaway, welcomed by the industry, was the confirmation that the government remained committed to delivering the core Northern Powerhouse Rail, East West Rail, and HS2 to Manchester schemes.

“The Autumn Statement recommits to the government’s transformative growth plans for our railways,” read the Statement. “These include East West Rail, core Northern Powerhouse Rail, and High Speed 2 to Manchester. These will provide fast, more reliable services and connect people to new job opportunities.”

The threat of cuts to all three schemes had been widely discussed in the days leading up to the Autumn Statement, with Rishi Sunak scrambling to find £55 billion in savings. However, the projects will “be funded as promised,” according to Mr Hunt.

Responding to the Autumn Statement, Darren Caplan, chief executive of the Railway Industry Association (RIA) said: “…it is welcome that the Chancellor has confirmed in the Autumn Statement that three key rail projects will be built in the coming months and years. This isn’t just the right thing to do when it comes to connectivity, but is also in the long-term economic interests of the country and the efforts to decarbonise, as well.”

However, concerns remain about the wording of the Statement. It has not been clarified what Mr Hunt means when he refers to the ‘core’ of Northern Powerhouse Rail. There is some confusion and concern then, as to whether any of these projects will be scaled back in the coming years.

In addition, Mr Hunt’s Statement laid out that capital budgets will increase over the next two years to 2024, and then be maintained in cash terms subsequently. Mr Caplan has responded saying: “… it is concerning that capital budgets will seemingly not rise as planned after 2024. RIA will of course monitor to see that the rail renewals budget is maintained too, to ensure there is no deterioration in the network.”

Speaking about the broader plans laid out by the Autumn Statement, the rail and transport union TSSA said: “Today’s budget is a squeeze on people who are already struggling…The deafening silence on public sector pay and wages more widely is damning. This government appears oblivious to the industrial unrest across our country.”

Image credit: istockphoto.com

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