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Liverpool Can Lead the Way in Devo-Max Debate

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Steve at Liverpool in London

The Tories will tell you that everything has been fixed and the country is on the right track. But people who are working hard feel they are struggling to keep their heads above water.

The recovery may be helping the most powerful and privileged but, in cities like Liverpool, everyday working people are feeling the pain of the longest cost-of-living crisis in a century as sharply as ever. 

Everyday working people find their journey to work made harder and more expensive than it needs to be by a deregulated system that fails to serve the public interest. Fares are up, services are being cut.

For too long powers to regulate and integrate bus services have been enjoyed only by London, while other regions like ours have been unable to plan ahead or join up their transport networks to help secure the prosperity they need.

Labour has a radical plan for spreading power and prosperity to regions such as the North West. Labour’s Manifesto will commit the next Government to:

  1. Giving city and county regions more power over their public transport networks so they are able to set the right bus routes and have fairer fares, as well as integrate their transport services to help working people and businesses succeed in their areas. This will give regions new powers to regulate their bus services as those in London.
  1. Passing an English Devolution Act to reverse a century of centralisation. This will secure devolution to the people of English regions, transfer £30 billion-worth of funding over five years, and build on the achievements of the last government in devolving power away from Westminster to Scotland and Wales
  1. Putting devolution at the heart of the next Labour government with regular meetings of a new English Regional Cabinet Committee chaired by the Prime Minister. This will be attended by relevant Secretaries of State and leaders from major City and County Regions.

What does that mean in detail?

 1.       New powers for city and county regions to regulate their bus services

At present most regions have a strong in-built bias towards heavily deregulated bus provision preventing them from delivering integrated public transport plans that would allow Oyster card-style integrated ticketing and joined up networks with rail or tram services. It also prevents them combining a transport plan with a growth strategy.

The existing approach through Quality Partnerships and Quality Contracts has proved ineffective at allowing local areas to better regulate or integrate their bus services.

But in London, a regulated bus system with fares and routes set by an accountable transport authority, has helped passenger numbers rise in the as they have fallen in the other English regions.

Labour’s plan would go beyond the Quality Contract approach by introducing new primary legislation to devolve transport powers in a quicker and more effective way. This will allow city or county regions which come together in combined authorities to use a simple and swift procedure for getting greater control over local bus services - setting routes and fares, introducing smarter ticketing, and integrating those services with wider public transport and growth plans.

This will mean that rather than different private companies or Whitehall taking decisions about public transport, local areas would be put in the driving seat. Similar models exist successfully in many other countries, including Denmark, and local areas already franchise for some other services in a similar way, for example the Tyne and Wear Metro and Liverpool’s Mersyrail.

 2.       An English Devolution Act

 

This will be a manifesto commitment for legislation making necessary changes to devolve power and funding worth at least £30bn over five years in areas recommended by the Adonis Review including:

  • Transport and Housing - infrastructure funding would be devolved to city and county region authorities
  • Business support – funding for business support and enterprise projects would flow directly to strong independent LEPs in return for matched private sector funding and/or in-kind contribution 
  • Skills – city and county region authorities would also be allocated funding to commission 19+ further education provision based on local commissioning plans
  • Employment support – city and county authorities would commission the Work Programme, getting the long term unemployed back to work

And Labour would go much further than the Government in also devolving taxation, integrating health and social care at a local level, as well as seeking to devolve powers beyond our cities to county regions.

Measures include:

  • Business Rates – give control over the full revenue from business rates to city and county regions and allowing them to retain 100% of additional money raised 
  • Health and Social Care – join up commissioning between councils and the NHS for care for people with long-term conditions, disability and frailty
  • County regions – the Government talks exclusively about city regions, we will also seek to devolve funding and powers to county regions where councils come together to form combined authorities

Unlike this government, which has tried and failed to bring in new mayors for existing local authorities without granting them additional powers, Labour believes that the devolved powers should be granted to Combined Authorities. They should then be allowed to explore what forms of accountability works for them, including being allowed to elect their own leader if they wish and with the agreement of local councils.

3.       An English Regional Cabinet Committee

 

A Labour Government will convene an English Regional Cabinet Committee chaired by the Prime Minister, and attended by the relevant Secretaries of State and leaders from the major English cities and county regions.

A preparatory meeting of this committee, charged with delivering plans for devolution to England, will meet in Shadow form in Manchester today. Those attending will include Ed Miliband, Jon Cruddas, Hilary Benn, and Mary Creagh, as well as the leaders of core cities in England, the chairs of the existing combined authorities, and representatives from the LGA, ALC and the English counties.

The first full meeting to be held in January would include a report from Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor, on how this devolution will be mainstreamed into the first Spending Review of the Labour Government.

This is bold stuff from Labour. It address part of the disillusionment felt by many in the North West who recognise that we have a London-centric economy. Whilst Liverpool would not dispute the economic prowess of London, we also know we can rival London in other sectors. Too often our potential is stifled. I want to play my part in ensuring Liverpool is a major beneficiary of the next Labour government’s devolution plan. Help me to make that happen. 

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