City transport leaders agree approach to Government on rail devolution
At a meeting held in Leeds on 29th Feb, leaders of the six largest urban transport authorities outside London (which together serve eleven million people in Greater Manchester, Tyne and Wear, Merseyside, West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire and the West Midlands) called on the Government to transfer key responsibilities over local rail services from Whitehall.
A consultation on the scope for further rail devolution is expected to be included in the forthcoming Government Command Paper on rail - which is due to be launched in early March. The Government has already signalled its in principle support for further devolution of powers over local rail services.
Cllr Mark Dowd, who chairs the group which brings together the five Integrated Transport Authorities (ITAs) and the Transport for Greater Manchester Committee, said:
‘All the evidence shows that local rail services are better managed locally, rather than from Whitehall. Local management means local accountability for the quality of those services. It means that rail can be better integrated with tram and bus, and it offers the potential for London-style, smart and simple Oyster-style ticketing across all forms of big city public transport networks.’
‘Since their inception, PTEs have been investing in local rail networks – including new routes, stations and trains. Because we are local we can pool funding sources and use local knowledge to ensure that our rail networks meet the needs of our local economies. This is one reason why our rail networks have been booming in recent years as more people commute longer distances to access the opportunities that our core cities provide. Now is the time to build on this success story by giving city region transport authorities, and their local authority partners, the responsibility for the planning, oversight and development of those networks by making us, rather than Whitehall, responsible for the West Midlands and Northern rail networks. At our meeting in Leeds we agreed a common approach to the way forward on devolution in the North of England. This will complement a proposition to be put forward by Centro for the West Midlands. We now look forward to the opportunity to discuss with Government, and local transport authorities across the North, how this can be taken forward.’
The PTEs already play an important role on their local rail networks through being co-signatories to the Northern franchise, and through increment/decrement powers to make changes to those services. The proposal is to go beyond this role so that PTEs take on the franchise authority role for their respective rail systems in the North of England, and the West Midlands.
Cllr Dowd added:
‘We are very pleased that both the Government and the Opposition have recognised that when real responsibilities for local rail are devolved then passengers get a better rail service as a result. This can be seen already on London Overground, Merseyrail Electrics and Scotrail. However, for all the benefits that we know we can bring to local rail services, this cannot be devolution at any price. For devolution to work we will need a fair deal on costs, subsidies and risks. Modern and reliable rail networks are key to a sustainable economic future for the North of England and the West Midlands. We need a funding settlement for these networks that will allow us to provide the better services that passengers want, and that that our economies depend on.’
For more contact Jonathan Bray on 0113 251 7445 / 0781 804 1485
Notes for Editors
The transport authorities represented at the meeting have responsibilities for the West Midlands (‘Centro’), West Yorkshire (‘Metro’), Greater Manchester (‘Transport for Greater Manchester’), Merseyside (‘Merseytravel’), Tyne and Wear (‘Nexus’) and South Yorkshire (‘SYPTE’).