The Future Is Transport

The Industrial Strategy White Paper is one of the most important documents this Government will release. Not only is the Strategy trying to overcome our persistent productivity issue but it also shows what our post-Brexit economy could look like. Transport is at the heart of the future.

The role that transport plays in delivering a Britain 'fit for the future' is clear from the outset of the 255-page document. Whilst the promises of investment will be welcome, especially when it comes to linking cities, the challenges set for sector remain stark and expectations of what it can deliver are extremely high.

The idea that transport supports local growth and improves productivity should surprise no-one but the Strategy tries to give it renewed vigour for instance through the new Transforming Cities fund to give a £1.7bn for intra-city transport (although this had already been announced both before and during the recent Budget). The detail reveals that half the funding will be allocated through a competition for transport projects in cities with the rest going to the six combined authorities with elected metro mayors.

There is also a boost to the existing National Productivity Investment Fund which is increased to £31bn with £4.9bn going to support transport. The rest goes to housing, digital and R&D.

The role of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) are boosted again by the Government as they, rather than local authorities, need to agree Local Industrial Strategies in places without a Mayor. Even those who support LEPs will admit that their quality can vary so this move is a signal that Government wants its version of local democracy and devolution to work – LEPs and Mayors. Anyone not signing up gets less.

But the future is no less important for transport. It is at the very core of the Government post-Brexit economic vision. The country can, it believes, utilise low carbon transport to deliver economic growth. "We will invest in innovation to develop clean technologies across road, rail, aviation and maritime transport."

The challenges ahead are recognised, not least getting the regulatory framework for new technologies right and coping with a blurring of the distinctions between public and private transport. The Strategy also seeks better use of data in developing new services and getting the most from the existing networks.

If we are to utilise advances in transport for our own economic reward then we need to be world leaders in its use, not just its development. So the National Infrastructure Commission will be involved in a prize to see how roadbuilding can support self-driving cars, and there is investment for car charging and extra for the plug-in car grant.

Most radical though could be the development of local smart systems for 'cheap and clean energy' in transport and other sectors.

So there is more thinking coming with a Future of Urban Mobility strategy within the next 12 months; a 'Transport Infrastructure Efficiency Strategy' which will help, amongst other things, reduce procurement costs; and, a zero emissions road transport strategy.

It is ironic that a paper that recognises the potential impact of the changing shape of mobility and places more emphasis on local prioritisation and supporting high value transport investments in 'less productive parts of the UK' comes not from the DfT but from BEIS.

Sadly for the Government, its flagship announcement has been overshadowed by Royal news. That should not though disguise its potential impact or influence over the shape of transport locally, nationally or even globally.