Steve leads Labour’s response to The Devolution and Cities Bill

 In News, Parliament, Speeches

Labour MP, Steve led Labour’s response to the The Devolution and Cities Bill on Tuesday 17th November. You can see the full hansard of the debate here

It is welcome to hear the consensus for devolution from all parts of the House this afternoon, and welcome, too, to hear the Minister tell us he is in listening mode. I hope so, because there is an awful lot still to work out across the Bill, including in the new clauses before us now. It will be important if we can build consensus around them so we have a solid foundation on which to build in the Bills that I am sure will follow this devolution Bill.

Labour wants to see the devolution of control over local transport so that trains, buses, trams and cycling can be properly integrated. I welcome the Government new clause. It is undoubtedly a step forward, but, like other parts of the Bill, it is limited by three factors: first, it does not go far enough; secondly, the funding and resourcing are not clear; and thirdly, it still keeps too much control in Whitehall. We would welcome further Government thinking on all those areas before we come to a final decision on the Bill.

Mr Andrew Turner: The hon. Gentleman listed three or four ways of getting around, but did not mention ferries. Where do they fit?

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Mr Reed: I am happy to add in any mode of transport that I inadvertently excluded from my list, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point.

Graham Stringer rose—

Mr Reed: Has my hon. Friend thought of another mode of transport that I missed?

Graham Stringer: No. My hon. Friend mentioned buses. Does he share my surprise that we are discussing this Bill when the Government have still not produced the Bill that will allow these devolved authorities to reregulate the buses?

Mr Reed: I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. I hope that the Government will hear it while they are in listening mode, and that they will make the appropriate changes so that we can get maximum devolution and give local authorities back maximum control over their bus services.

New clause 34 will allow other regions to set up their own Transport for London-style models. TfL was an excellent Labour initiative but it was delivered 15 years ago. Helping other regions to catch up with London is the right thing to do, but it is a missed opportunity not to go significantly beyond that.

John Redwood: If the STB in a given area were to promote a road improvement that covered two different council areas, does the hon. Gentleman think that the STB should have the power to make one of the councils co-operate in the scheme if it did not wish to do so?

Mr Reed: That is a matter for the Government, but my view is that this should all be done through co-operation and negotiation, not through imposition. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman would not advocate any such imposition; I suspect that he would not.

The London Assembly has made the case that cities such as London need further devolved powers to integrate rail services with their surrounding commuter regions. That will apply to other regions across the country as well. It is not quite clear, however, what will be in scope in that regard. Perhaps this relates to the right hon. Gentleman’s question. It would be helpful to have clarification on that point, as we do not have long to go before the Bill reaches its Report stage. It would be helpful to have clarity before we reach the final vote on the Bill.

There is also the question of how new transport initiatives will be funded. Since 2010, local authorities have had their funding for bus services cut by 70%. The Department for Transport has recently signed up to a further 32% cut, which is likely to affect sustainable transport programmes for cycling and buses, once we see the full detail. All of this undermines the upgrades necessary to deliver effective transport integration, which is critical to making the system work efficiently and effectively for local people. Those decisions should not be taken centrally without involving the areas affected by them, and I hope that the Government will come forward with proposals to ensure that resourcing is also part of the negotiations with localities, along with the additional powers that they may or may not be able to acquire.

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Significant control over STBs is to be retained, in some cases quite unnecessarily. The new clause mentions the Secretary of State 39 times, but it mentions mayors just twice. Will mayors have a significant role within these organisations or not? We would welcome further clarification from the Government on what the precise role of the mayors will be. The Government are forcing mayors on to localities whether they want them or not, as a condition of devolution deals in the metropolitan areas, but they also seem to be denying the mayors certain powers. Either they are a central point of local accountability or they are not. We would like to see their powers over transport matters extended.

Under the provisions, authorities will still have to have their proposals approved by the Secretary of State, from whom they will also still get their funding. The Secretary of State will also be able to make provisions about how an STB is to carry out various functions. That does not seem radically different from where the ultimate authority lies now. We have seen what happens when this Government try to deliver transport projects with too much centralised control. We have seen the pausing, and the un-pausing, of the electrification of the TransPennine route, and we have seen airport expansion kicked into the long grass for decades. The Great Western main line electrification announced by Labour has also been delayed by the Tories, with its costs spiralling from under £550 million in 2011 to £2.8 billion today.

Despite the Minister’s fine words and the undoubted good intentions of the Secretary of State, it appears that the Government are still too timid to really let go. I hope that the listening mode they have declared they are in today means they will think about how they can go further with these proposals by the time we reach Report.