We have created a brand new dataset that for the first time reveals the number of jobs accessible by car and public transport from every local area (LSOA) in the country across different time horizons. The subsequent analysis, Network Effects, exposes a yawning transport gap between different parts of the country:
The transport gap is particularly acute around towns in the Red Wall regions of the North West and West Yorkshire, where geographic proximity to jobs is no guarantee that workers will be able to reach them.
This suggests that spending dedicated to public transport could be much better directed towards improving jobs access in Britain’s regional towns and cities, rather than improving transport in places that are already well-connected.
Successive governments have placed considerable emphasis on transport investment to unlock growth, with transport projects typically scoring higher on benefit cost ratios under the Treasury’s Green Book rules. However, our research suggests that this may be a mistake, as transport connectivity to jobs appears to have little overall bearing on the average income and productivity of a place:
We have published the dataset openly to allow others to analyse it and create their own maps and graphs. Head over to our GitHub page to download all the journey time data used in this report. Please credit Onward if you do.
We are particularly grateful to Alasdair Rae, founder of Automatic Knowledge Ltd, who developed the measure of access to jobs used in this paper. A full methodology is available in the Annex of the full report.
The report was supported by the Levelling Up Taskforce, a group of 65 Conservative MPs we convene to develop ideas around levelling up.
Selaine Saxby MP, MP for North Devon and Committee Member for the Levelling Up Parliamentary Taskforce, said:
“The reason the Levelling Up agenda is so vital is because economic opportunity has for too long been defined by geography – with people held back simply because of where they were born and grew up.
“In rural constituencies like mine in North Devon, this is exacerbated by our disparate transport links and infrastructure, shrinking the effective local labour market and often meaning young people have to move away to further their chosen career. This is a problem that affects the South West as a whole, as I wrote in a report for Onward recently.
“We will simply not succeed in levelling up opportunity for regional and coastal towns unless people can rely on good and reliable transport links to access jobs and opportunity.”
Richard Holden MP, MP for North West Durham and Committee Member of the Levelling Up Parliamentary Taskforce, said:
“This excellent report highlights clearly the challenges faced by those in our towns and villages of accessing opportunities for both education and employment.
“Conservative MPs like me were elected to level up opportunity for people in our overlooked towns and villages, that means ensuring that younger people and those on low incomes don’t need to move away in order to fulfil their potential. It’s vital that ministers take note of this report and use it as the basis for further policy to help spread opportunity across our country.”
Simon Fell, MP for Barrow-in-Furness and Member of the Levelling Up Parliamentary Taskforce, said:
“This fascinating report shows the importance of connectivity to levelling up. Move away from those places blessed with mainline rail, decent broadband, or easy access to motorways, and you see a direct correlation between opportunity and connectivity. If we hope to improve our nation and truly level up, then we must acknowledge the role that robust connectivity plays in increasing productivity, lowering barriers for new businesses starting out, and in capturing opportunities missed.”
Your contribution will help fund cutting edge research to make the country a better place.