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In the hours after the election, news channels delivered a scene that few could have imagined in the wake of the 2017 election: a Conservative Prime Minister sweeping to victory across the North and the Midlands. But as the dust settles on the election, Boris Johnson’s government is left with the enormous task of delivering on his ‘one nation’ promise. Productivity in the North lags behind the national average, with a £15 an hour deficit when compared to London, and it is clear that repaying those voters, many of them voting Conservative for the first time, begins with an increase in the regional prosperity of the North.

This appears to be at the forefront of this government’s agenda. Alongside a manifesto promise for a £250 million civic infrastructure fund to complement the ‘Towns Fund’, Johnson has promised to “level up” the UK by “investing in better infrastructure, better education and fantastic modern technology” across the country.

By bringing cities, firms and people closer together, improved transport links increase the scale at which companies can work and encourage monetary growth, while preventing overcrowding and cancelled services that inhibit other drivers of economic performance. To unlock the full potential of a Northern economy valued at £344 billion, in a region of some 15 million people, better transport systems will be key to sustaining freight routes in ports such as Liverpool, Hull and Newcastle, and international airports, like Manchester.

Even as Northern Rail and Transport for the North groan under the weight of maintaining transport networks in a region that has received on average a 2.4 times smaller investment per capita on transport than London over the past decade, the signs from the incumbent government are positive. A newly-promised £39 billion fund is now expected to be spent on Northern Powerhouse Rail, a Trans Pennine link from Liverpool to Hull, connecting the North from coast to coast. This forms part of a wider £70 billion pot to improve Northern Road and Rail connections. Although useful in itself, this fund will no doubt complement, even catalyse, the infrastructural and cultural improvements resulting from the pledged small business tax reliefs and a new cultural investment fund.

But the Conservative Party’s historically poor performance at the polls in the North East shows that these new voters do not quickly forget an unpopular policy. The costs for HS2 are now set to exceed £80 billion, and it is predicted that the service will not reach Leeds or Manchester until as late as 2040. For all its publicity, the high-speed rail network is still years away from completing even its first phase, and so it will take more than spending promises to keep voters in the North onside by the time the 2024 election comes around.

The trouble is, as Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham recognises, that infrastructure projects inevitably last “beyond the political cycle”, and subsequently can be easily lost in the pipeline as governments and policy aims change. What the North needs is what IPPR North calls ‘quick wins’, projects that can be delivered within a single government’s term in office, providing immediate relief to balance major long-term projects like Northern Powerhouse Rail. From building a railway station at Leeds-Bradford airport to extending Manchester’s Metrolink or committing to the manifesto pledge of restoring some of the Beeching Lines, the loss of which have left many smaller towns isolated and economically disadvantaged, the opportunity to realise short-term gains in the North is evident. For the government’s ‘one nation’ vision to succeed, they need to find unity across the country, not only by bridging the North-South divide, but by connecting many of the comparatively isolated Northern cities with each other. Managing both long and short-term transport projects will prove to be a delicate balancing act, but it might just be the place to start.

Luke Cavanaugh is undertaking work experience at Bright Blue. Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.