The government must work with councils, to protect us from the harsh effect of Brexit

Prime minister Theresa May and mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson. Image: Getty.

The Labour mayor of Liverpool on the government’s lack of planning for Brexit. 

No one should be in any doubt just how big a change to our national political and economic life Brexit will be. But domestic issues matter too – and they are falling off ministers’ agendas.

Just look around. There is a snaking queue of topics that have been abandoned as the government becomes convulsed by Brexit. Our NHS and social care system is buckling under the strain of unfunded demands. We have a housing market that has priced a generation of young people out of home-ownership. A criminal justice system that is struggling to cope. The Universal Credit roll-out – the biggest-ever change in the benefits system – leaving claimants destitute as they wait six weeks for payments. Not to mention that we are a month away from a make or break Budget.

The Chancellor will either signal a change of direction on austerity and usher in a better balance of capital spending between northern and southern parts of this country – or he won’t. At which point, the Northern Powerhouse concept will be stone-cold dead, just when the need to join-up our northern cities in order to realise their economic potential has never been more necessary.

We are in the worst of both worlds. Brexit and the fortunes of the Conservative party have swamped domestic British politics to the point that there is little focus on anything else. It dominates our foreign and domestic agenda, yet we have nothing even close to a national conversation about our economic resilience ahead of leaving the European Union in 2019, despite ministers apparently sitting on dozens of reports into the consequences on different sectors of the economy.


Just as a stopped clock is right twice a day, so there will be businesses and parts of Britain that will benefit from leaving the EU. However, my hunch is that there will be far fewer of the former and many more of the latter. This makes the sheer lack of scenario-planning by Whitehall a national scandal.

We are poorly-equipped for the changes to come and Brexit must be seen as an existential threat to cities like mine. Our local economy has made great strides in recent years – despite the relentless headwind of austerity, which has seen us lose two-thirds of our budget, some £420m, since 2010.

However much ministers urge us to rejoice and see the wondrous potential of Brexit, they are doing nothing to prepare us for the hard reality of finding ourselves outside the European Union and single market.

There doesn’t seem to be anyone on Whitehall’s bridge steering the national economy away from the rocks in front of us. Indeed, the creeping prospect of there being no deal with the European Commission – a hard Brexit – adds yet another layer of uncertainty, while our lopsided economy – already tilted towards the interests of London and financial services – will become even more unbalanced, hurting our major cities outside the capital the most.

Amid such uncertainty at the top of government it’s inevitable that investors’ confidence will be damaged, which will affect growth and hurt jobs and living standards.

For Liverpool – where 58 per cent of voters wanted to remain in the EU – the gamble on Brexit comes at too high a price. But if we are going to leave the European Union it’s a dereliction of duty not to plan and prepare for the predictable effects of Brexit and ministers have a duty to use the forthcoming Budget help shield us from its harsh effects.

Over to you Chancellor.

Joe Anderson is mayor of Liverpool.

 
 
 
 

Everything you ever wanted to know about the Seoul Metro System but were too afraid to ask

Gwanghwamoon subway station on line 5 in Seoul, 2010. Image: Getty.

Seoul’s metro system carries 7m passengers a day across 1,000 miles of track. The system is as much a regional commuter railway as an urban subway system. Without technically leaving the network, one can travel from Asan over 50 miles to the south of central Seoul, all the way up to the North Korean border 20 miles north of the city.

Fares are incredibly low for a developed country. A basic fare of 1,250 won (about £1) will allow you to travel 10km; it’s only an extra 100 won (about 7p) to travel every additional 5km on most lines.

The trains are reasonably quick: maximum speeds of 62mph and average operating speeds of around 20mph make them comparable to London Underground. But the trains are much more spacious, air conditioned and have wi-fi access. Every station also has protective fences, between platform and track, to prevent suicides and accidents.

The network

The  service has a complex system of ownership and operation. The Seoul Metro Company (owned by Seoul City council) operates lines 5-8 on its own, but lines 1-4 are operated jointly with Korail, the state-owned national rail company. Meanwhile, Line 9 is operated jointly between Trans-Dev (a French company which operates many buses in northern England) and RATP (The Parisian version of TfL).

Then there’s Neotrans, owned by the Korean conglomerate Doosan, which owns and operates the driverless Sinbundang line. The Incheon city government, which borders Seoul to the west, owns and operates Incheon Line 1 and Line 2.

The Airport Express was originally built and owned by a corporation jointly owned by 11 large Korean firms, but is now mostly owned by Korail. The Uijeongbu light railway is currently being taken over by the Uijeongbu city council (that one’s north of Seoul) after the operating company went bankrupt. And the Everline people mover is operated by a joint venture owned by Bombardier and a variety of Korean companies.

Seoul’s subway map. Click to expand. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

The rest of the lines are operated by the national rail operator Korail. The fare structure is either identical or very similar for all of these lines. All buses and trains in the region are accessible with a T-money card, similar to London’s Oyster card. Fares are collected centrally and then distributed back to operators based on levels of usage.

Funding

The Korean government spends around £27bn on transport every year: that works out at 10 per cent more per person than the British government spends.  The Seoul subway’s annual loss of around £200m is covered by this budget.

The main reason the loss is much lower than TfL’s £458m is that, despite Seoul’s lower fares, it also has much lower maintenance costs. The oldest line, Line 1 is only 44 years old.


Higher levels of automation and lower crime rates also mean there are fewer staff. Workers pay is also lower: a newly qualified driver will be paid around £27,000 a year compared to £49,000 in London.

New infrastructure is paid for by central government. However, investment in the capital does not cause the same regional rivalries as it does in the UK for a variety of reasons. Firstly, investment is not so heavily concentrated in the capital. Five other cities have subways; the second city of Busan has an extensive five-line network.

What’s more, while investment is still skewed towards Seoul, it’s a much bigger city than London, and South Korea is physically a much smaller country than the UK (about the size of Scotland and Wales combined). Some 40 per cent of the national population lives on the Seoul network – and everyone else who lives on the mainland can be in Seoul within 3 hours.

Finally, politically the biggest divide in South Korea is between the south-west and the south-east (the recently ousted President Park Geun-Hye won just 11 per cent of the vote in the south west, while winning 69 per cent in the south-east). Seoul is seen as neutral territory.  

Problems

A driverless train on the Shinbundang Line. Image: Wikicommons.

The system is far from perfect. Seoul’s network is highly radial. It’s incredibly cheap and easy to travel from outer lying areas to the centre, and around the centre itself. But travelling from one of Seoul’s satellite cities to another by public transport is often difficult. A journey from central Goyang (population: 1m) to central Incheon (population: 3m) is around 30 minutes by car. By public transport, it takes around 2 hours. There is no real equivalent of the London Overground.

There is also a lack of fast commuter services. The four-track Seoul Line 1 offers express services to Incheon and Cheonan, and some commuter towns south of the city are covered by intercity services. But most large cities of hundreds of thousands of people within commuting distance (places comparable to Reading or Milton Keynes) are reliant on the subway network, and do not have a fast rail link that takes commuters directly to the city centre.

This is changing however with the construction of a system modelled on the Paris RER and London’s Crossrail. The GTX will operate at maximum speed of 110Mph. The first line (of three planned) is scheduled to open in 2023, and will extend from the new town of Ilsan on the North Korean border to the new town of Dongtan about 25km south of the city centre.

The system will stop much less regularly than Crossrail or the RER resulting in drastic cuts in journey times. For example, the time from llsan to Gangnam (of Gangnam Style fame) will be cut from around 1hr30 to just 17 minutes. When the three-line network is complete most of the major cities in the region will have a direct fast link to Seoul Station, the focal point of the GTX as well as the national rail network. A very good public transport network is going to get even better.