CBI calls for STBs with real powers across England


Business leaders have warned of a ‘two-speed’ England unless the Government adopts a coherent approach to improving infrastructure, including a sub-national transport body (STB) with a clear role for each area of the country.

The CBI's new report Driving Delivery: Turning plans into action on regional infrastructure claims the complexity of infrastructure decision-making and a lack of transparency around how investment decisions are made are putting at risk the promise of greater connectivity.

Rail and road bridges connecting Cornwall and Devon

The report states: ‘Frustration is growing though in those regions that are increasingly viewed as incapable of coming together and moving forward in the best interests of their area. To begin to tackle this, national and local decision makers must ensure that all regions are represented by a sub-national transport body to make their region’s case for investment.’

Transport Network has previously reported on efforts in the East and South West to develop STBs, with the South West covered by separate proposals covering the South West Penninsula (Cornwall, Devon and Somerset) and the remainder of the region.

However the CBI report states: ‘CBI South West members believe that the best way to maximise the region’s collective political strength, and to deliver on shared transport priorities, is to form a single sub-national transport body which can develop and drive forward a transport plan for region-wide growth.’

The report also adds to the criticism of the limited function of STBs even when they achieve statutory status, as Transport for the North did this year.

It argues that while the existing role of STBs in drawing up strategy, advising ministers and co-ordinating functions ‘is a welcome step towards enabling regions to clearly communicate their investment priorities to government, uncertainty remains about the extent to this relationship and the impact it will have’.

Drawing these two themes together, the report refers to the proposed creation of Major Road Network as an example of a ‘live risk’ where a region does not have an STB. However, it also cites the ‘unprecedented’ joint statement from the four existing bodies, which urged the Government to ensure that STBs have an integral role in the MRN’s definition and implementation.

Matthew Fell, its chief UK policy director, said: ‘England’s infrastructure is a patchwork quilt. It takes longer to get from Liverpool to Hull by train than from London to Paris. Firms have identified the most important projects across the country, but uncertainty and complexity on infrastructure decision making is blocking progress, deterring investors and holding back our regions from fully realising their incredible potential.

‘To set all regions up for success, we need a policy environment that turns plans into action. Increasing the funding allocated to local infrastructure in the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review, and having fewer, more impactful spending pots would put genuine power in the hands of local leaders.

‘And where it’s the Government that holds the purse strings on projects, there must be a clearer link between regional growth and decisions that are taken, with STBs making the case for all areas. If not, we risk some regions accelerating ahead of others, creating a two-speed England.’

The CBI is calling for:

  • A commitment in the upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review to increase local transport funding and to consolidate the number of funding pots for local transport investment
  • Greater emphasis on future economic potential in the Government’s infrastructure decision making to deliver investment across regions
  • STBs for the South West and East of England, so all parts of the country are represented, alongside clearer expectations of their role
  • A framework from the Government enabling regions and local leaders to make the most of the opportunities of devolution
  • A cross-Whitehall Infrastructure Committee, to better coordinate infrastructure planning, decision-making and delivery across government departments.

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