Some critics of the imbalances in our UK economy between London and the rest point out that London does better in public spending per head that some other less prosperous parts of the country. They also point out London does well in attracting large capital projects like Crossrail. Why don’t other parts of the country have the same?
It is not true to say that high public spending per head is the cause of London’s prosperity. The second most prosperous UK region is the South-east, with much lower public spending per head and no major projects. Higher levels of per capita income are mainly driven by high private sector employment levels, high levels of education and training in the workforce, a high concentration of high value added activities in the private sector. The South-east economy does well despite the absence of sufficient investment in rail and road capacity, with full up commuter trains and regularly congested roads.
London has attracted substantial transport investment in recent years because it has the most congested systems of anywhere in the country. As the London economy draws in more people and generates more income and wealth, so there is much more travel demand. The antiquated street system cannot possibly meet the needs for individual road travel, so large numbers need to go by tube or train or bus. London has critical mass for public transport, and needs more of it as the economy grows.
I am all for spending money on major transport projects elsewhere, where the demand justifies it. If other cities are short of rail and road capacity they should be given financial help to meet the needs. It is unlikely to cause the growth they are seeking, but is a necessity when the growth occurs. Few places enjoy anything like the intensity of pressure on public transport that London creates, which is why many places need better road connectivity.