I have a new book published on 1 September, one in a series of short books on policy and economics topics described as ‘essays on big ideas by leading writers’. My contribution is a critique of the inconsistencies of transport policy in recent decades, which I attribute to the shortcomings of conventional transport economic appraisal in identifying the benefits that arise from investment.
The major proposal to stimulate the economies of the cities comprising the Northern Powerhouse is to improve east-west transport connectivity, both rail and road. However, the evidence for the benefits of investment in inter-urban transport is less persuasive than for investment in intra-urban services.
Glasgow and Edinburgh are two cities with good transport links: as little as 48 minutes by rail, with over 200 trains a day in each direction. The economy of Glasgow has changed markedly over the years: whilst manufacturing has declined, there has been significant growth of service industries, in particular financial and business services. Glasgow is now one of Europe’s sixteen largest financial centres, based on a new International Financial Services District, where operating costs are claimed to be 40% lower than in London.
Of the 20 named businesses located in this District, only one is a company headquarters. The others are back offices or subsidiaries, just two of which report to HQs in Edinburgh, the long established centre of financial services in Scotland. The large majority of these Glasgow operations report to London, other English cities or to overseas head offices, for which north-south and international connectivities are more important than east-west.
The good transport connectivity between Glasgow and Edinburgh does not appear to have been an important factor in the development of the financial services sector in Glasgow.