The Government has launched a £1.7bn Transforming Cities Fund designed to improve transport links in and around city regions, as ministers place modern mobility at the heart of the Budget.
The first allocation from the fund will see £250m handed to the West Midlands Combined Authority, led by mayor Andy Street, to fund an extension of the light-rail Metro from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill in the Black Country.
The West Midlands is reported to have asked for £200m for the scheme when presenting its full business case to transport secretary Chris Grayling in July.
Mr Grayling said: ‘The Transforming Cities Fund will drive productivity and growth in cities where this is most needed, connecting communities and making it quicker and easier for people to get around.
‘We have already seen the impact of better integrated transport links for both passengers and the local economy in cities like Nottingham and Manchester. This new fund will enable more English cities to reap these benefits, helping to deliver the opportunities and ambition of the Industrial Strategy across the country, as well as driving forward the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine.’
Ministers have set their sights on keeping the UK at the forefront of the latest transport technology and supporting the switch to a low emissions network.
In the Budget on Wednesday, chancellor Philip Hammond is also expected to announce: £75m for artificial intelligence; £400m for electric car charge points; £100m to boost clean car purchases; and £160m for next-generation 5G mobile networks across the UK and the National Cyber Security Centre to ensure the security of the mobile network, as well as testing on roads to help provide the network needed for driverless cars.
The BBC reports that a further £35m will be used to give rail passengers reliable mobile connections and "lightning-speed" internet during journeys. Trials are due to begin on the Trans-Pennine route, which connects Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool.
Alongside this the Government pledged to work with industry to try to boost R and D spending to 2.4% of GDP by 2027, which could increase public and private investment by as much as £80bn over the next 10 years. The Treasury said it will start by making an extra investment of £2.3bn in 2021/22, raising total public investment in R and D to £12.5bn that year alone.
And next week the Government is set to launch its Industrial Strategy White Paper, which will outline thinking on ‘four Grand Challenges’ that reflect global trends and industries where the UK has an edge - artificial intelligence and the data economy; clean growth; healthy ageing; and the future of mobility.
Writing in The Times today, the Prime Minister said she was taking a ‘new long-term approach to shaping a stronger and fairer economy for decades to come’.
She wrote: 'Our Industrial Strategy will propel Britain to global leadership of the industries of the future, seizing the big opportunities of our time – from Artificial Intelligence and Big Data to clean energy and self-driving vehicles.’
The Civil Engineering Contractors Association welcomed the suggestion that more cash would be spent on transport outside the south east. Director of external affairs Marie-Claude Hemming said: ‘We believe that substantial underinvestment outside London and the South East is a key cause of everyday challenges on regional road and rail networks. This contributes in the long-term to reduced business investment, growth, and productivity.
‘Our research has found that for every £1bn of infrastructure construction increases overall economic activity by £2.842bn. Today’s funding announcement will go a long way in driving substantial economic growth in the West Midlands.’