The worst fears of transport professionals did not materialise this week when chancellor Jeremy Hunt made his cost-cutting Autumn Statement

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt will not be “cutting a penny” from the UK’s capital budgets over the next two

There was tangible relief in transport circles this week when chancellor Jeremy Hunt avoided implementing deep cuts to transport spending in an Autumn Statement designed to plug a £40bn black hole in the government’s finances.

The chancellor confirmed commitments to transformative growth plans for the railways, including High Speed 2 to Manchester, the Northern Powerhouse Rail core network and East West Rail.

When making cuts, Hunt said capital is sometimes seen as an “easy option”.

“But doing so limits not our budgets, but our future,” he said, adding that he will not be “cutting a penny” from the UK’s capital budgets over the next two

Smart countries build on their long-term commitments rather than discard them

He added: “Smart countries build on their long-term commitments rather than discard them.”

Representing bus and coach operators, Graham Vidler, chief executive of the Confederation for Passenger Transport, said: “It’s encouraging that the transport budget has been maintained in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement.

“In the immediate term, CPT will work with devolved areas to prioritise improving local bus services as part of levelling-up funding.

“Our longer-term focus is with the transport secretary Mark Harper to secure a fair share of investment for the bus and coach sector – the nation’s most popular form of public transport – which is crucial for the UK’s wealth and health.”

COMMENT: It could have been worse – but challenges lie ahead

After the doomsday predictions of recent days there was some relief this week when chancellor Jeremy Hunt decided that he would not axe transport projects nor slash Department for Transport budgets in order to balance the books. And he committed the government to high profile infrastructure projects, including East West Rail, core Northern Powerhouse Rail, and High Speed 2 to Manchester.

As ever, the devil is in the detail, and while it appears that transport has done better than many expected there will still be difficult choices. It’s notable, for example, that Hunt did not refer to the eastern spur of HS2 to the East Midlands (only Manchester was mentioned).

The eastern leg has already been cut back from its original destination of Leeds, could it yet be axed completely? Meanwhile, it appears that the version of Northern Powerhouse Rail that has been saved is the watered down version backed by Boris Johnson before he was ousted.

Encouragingly the Treasury Red Book says that day-to-day Department for Transport revenue spending will grow by 1% per annum in real terms on average beyond 2021, shielding it from rampant inflation. However, while Hunt talked-up the virtues of investing in infrastructure, the DfT’s capital spending budget will only be maintained in cash terms beyond 2021 – a significant cut.

It could have been worse, but that’s the impression the government will have wanted to create. Big challenges lie ahead.

This story appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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