Chamber calls for Government to deliver on rail electrification

The time has come for the Government to finally deliver on electrifying the entire Midland Main Line after a Network Rail report featured the scheme in a wider clean transport vision, says the Chamber. The UK’s railway operator has set

out plans to electrify 4,800 miles of railway lines – including tracks in the Midlands stretching hundreds of miles – by 2050. Its Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy involves a combination of high- speed electric, hydrogen and battery-powered passenger and freight trains. In 2017, the Department for

Transport scrapped £1.1bn plans to electrify the whole of the line from London St Pancras to Sheffield. This has since been replaced with an electrification programme that only goes as far north as Market Harborough, with “bi-mode” trains running on electricity for part of the route before switching to diesel. But the Chamber has joined calls

from other bodies, including Midlands Connect, to reinstate the original scheme immediately and get on with work that is ready to go.

Chief executive Scott Knowles

said: “Electric trains are cleaner, lighter, more resilient and require less maintenance than diesel trains – which are often responsible for creating emissions hotspots around

the railway stations that are supposed to signify sustainability in the transport sector. “Not only are Network Rail’s plans

consistent with the Government’s UK net zero 2050 strategy, but it would bring closer integration with HS2, including the planned East Midlands hub at Toton that remains essential to the region’s growth.

‘Electric trains are cleaner, lighter, more resilient and require less maintenance than diesel trains’

“Previous assessments have

shown how improvements to the Midland Main Line deliver a fantastic benefit-cost ratio and would have a greater return on investment than similar schemes anywhere else in the country. However, promises to

Photo courtesy of Network Rail

electrify the entire line have not been met and the region has missed out on the economic prosperity this could bring. “Infrastructure investment is now

at the heart of the Government’s economic recovery strategy so we’d hope that this report will pave the way for the scheme to finally be delivered in full. “All the planning is in place to

make this happen as soon as the green light is given so now is the time to get on with it in order to

deliver its benefits as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile, the Chamber has welcomed the start of construction work on HS2 Phase One. But it urged the Government to

push on and confirm the rest of the proposed high-speed network in full “if Westminster is serious about its ‘levelling up’ agenda”. “HS2 Phase 2b will be a game-

changer for the East Midlands and we’re excited by the opportunities it will create,” Scott added.

Job Support Scheme to replace furlough

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has unveiled a new Job Support Scheme to replace the furlough scheme from 1 November. Running for six months, the

Government will top up salaries for businesses that can’t take employees back full time as part of a “winter economic plan” that also included measures to ease cashflow worries. The Chamber’s director of policy

and external affairs Chris Hobson said it would give businesses some “breathing space” after the Prime Minister told them to expect another six months of restrictions.

22 business networkOctober 2020 “It’s crucial that employers are

given the help to retain jobs that would otherwise be viable in normal times,” he said. “The introduction of the Job

Support Scheme means those businesses that had been looking anxiously towards 31 October and the end of the furlough scheme can now plan ahead with a bit more certainty.” Chris pointed out how the Chamber’s Quarterly Economic Survey for Q3 2020 showed cashflow worsened for four in 10 businesses over the previous three months, which came on top of a

reduction in cashflow for six in 10 in the second quarter. He added: “This is a huge

obstacle at a time when businesses are looking to return to growth, as well as with the end of the UK-EU transition period on the horizon meaning many organisations need to stockpile once more. “The flexibility afforded to

businesses via the ‘pay as you grow’ payback scheme on bounce back loans, the ability for deferred VAT to be repaid in 11 instalments rather than one lump sum, and the extended Government guarantee for the Business Interruption Loan

Scheme all give breathing space to organisations that otherwise would have been staring down the barrel in six months’ time. “Finally, the hospitality and

tourism sectors have been among the worst hit by the pandemic, so extending the five per cent VAT rate to the end of March provides some much-needed support to keep businesses open.” Chris urged the Chancellor to

“remain open to taking additional action to supporting those parts of the economy facing unprecedented challenges over the months ahead”.

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