Labour will move real power to regions

October 31, 2014 in Local, Parliament

Ed Miliband is today unveiling the next steps in Labour’s Plan to spread power and prosperity across England’s regions so that the economic recovery benefits everyday working people – not just a wealthy few.

He is announcing that Labour’s election manifesto will commit the next government to:

• 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 similar powers to regulate their bus services as those in London.

• 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.

• 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.

Speaking in Manchester where Mr Miliband is chairing a preparatory meeting of the Shadow English Regional Cabinet Committee, he will say:

“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 and towns across our country, everyday working people are feeling the pain of the longest cost-of-living crisis in a century as sharply as ever.

“Labour has a radical plan for spreading power and prosperity across England’s city and county regions, so that the recovery reaches your town square – not just the Square Mile of the City of London.

“Our plan already goes further than anything this Government can offer and today I am announcing the next steps which build on the work of the Adonis Review to help city and county regions drive growth in their areas.

“For too long powers to regulate and integrate bus services have been enjoyed only by London.

“For too long, the other regions of England have been unable to plan ahead or join up their transport networks to help secure the prosperity they need.

“For too long everyday working people have found 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.

“And for too long this issue has been ignored by Westminster: prosperity in one party of the country; power devolved in one part of the country; services not run for the public interest everywhere else. That stops today.

“The next Labour government will hand regions that want it the power to regulate their bus services so that local people and local businesses get the public transport system they need to succeed.

“Labour will legislate so that city and county regions can set fares, decide routes, and integrate bus services with trams, trains and the wider public transport network.

“Bus services and public transport should be the arteries that keep our regional economics moving, our roads less clogged with cars, and working people travelling to where businesses need them. We will put the public interest back on our buses.

“At this first preparatory meeting of our new English Regional Shadow Cabinet Committee, we are discussing plans for an England Act to mainstream this devolution agenda into the next government’s programme.

“Our plan will enable every region that comes together as a Combined Authorities like they have here in Greater Manchester to have extra powers and move to electing a leader if they wish.

“It will devolve funding equivalent to £30 billion over five years in areas like transport and housing infrastructure, business support, skills, and employment.

“And it will reverse a century of centralisation so that every region of England can benefit from the local planning and support the last Labour government delivered for Scotland and Wales.”

Policy detail:

1. New powers for city and county regions to regulate 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 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 see passenger numbers rise in the capital even as they have fallen in the other English metropolitan areas.

Labour’s plan would 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.

2. An English Devolution Act

This will be a manifesto commitment for legislation making necessary changes to devolve power and funding worth at least £30 billion 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 per cent 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, is meeting in Shadow form in Manchester today.

Those attending 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.

My question on the European Arrest Warrant

October 28, 2014 in Parliament

Yesterday, I asked the Prime Minister about a vote on the European Arrest Warrant.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Following on from the Prime Minister’s answer to the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), will he confirm that he will give his own Home Secretary, the police and the security services the tools they need to fight international crime and terrorism by making sure we have a vote in this place on the European arrest warrant before the end of November?

The Prime Minister: We have not changed our plans on this in any regard at all: the plans we have set out are still the plans to have that vote. What matters most of all is that we give the police and the security services the powers they need to keep our country safe.

Palestinian Statehood

October 21, 2014 in Parliament

My piece for LabourList on the House of Commons vote in favour of recognising Palestinian Statehood is available to read online here.

Women Bishops Debate

October 21, 2014 in Parliament

My speech in yesterday’s House of Common’s debate on women bishops.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Anybody looking in on this debate from outside would be rather surprised at how low key and sober it has been, given the momentousness of what we are debating and hopefully approving. I suspect that it is because most people will be rather surprised that this was not done some time ago. They probably thought it had been. Still, that should not detract from the importance and the historic nature of this evening’s debate, or of the approval for this Measure.

I hope that the right hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry), who speaks on behalf of the Church of England, will answer the technical questions raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), and by Lady Howe in the other place. However, I do not want to spend my few minutes focusing on technicalities. There have been few moments in the House of Commons that have given me this much pleasure. I joined the Movement for the Ordination of Women as a teenager; some may think that rather sad. Apologies to my Labour colleagues, but I joined the movement several years before I joined the Labour party.

We should pay tribute to all the campaigners over the years who spent a lot of their time getting us to where we are, and who took a lot of stick. I also pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Banbury, because—without sparing his blushes—he has been the most fantastic Second Church Estates Commissioner. He has shown leadership on the issue; after the previous Synod debate, which took us all by surprise and shocked the nation as well as the Church of England, he went back to the Synod, the bishops and the Archbishop of Canterbury and made it absolutely clear to them that Parliament would not put up with the situation.

We sometimes underestimate the role that we can play in this place, but the fact that we spoke with one voice, and such a strong voice, in response to that terrible vote two years ago in Synod really made a difference. I was involved in some of the meetings and discussions with the bishops and the archbishop. They were sobered by the vote, and were certainly unnerved by some of the discussions that we had in this place, saying, “If you can’t sort this out yourselves, we will sort it out for you through legislation. You had better watch the Church of England’s established status if you carry on like this.” That did concentrate minds, and it was largely to do with the right hon. Gentleman’s tireless work. I shall miss him in this place, not just because of the role he plays in the Church, but as one of the few sane Tory voices on Europe. I am sorry to lose that from the House as well.

I also pay tribute to the Archbishop of Canterbury. I always said that I thought that it would take somebody coming from his tradition within the Church of England to drag it into the modern age, and I am in danger of being proved right. He has shown real leadership and determination and organisational skills, political skills with a small p, which are essential in that job to get anything done. The majority that was achieved in the Synod last time took my breath away given what had happened the time before.

In response to the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) who is no longer in his place and who expressed some concern that what we are doing here tonight might damage our relationships with the Roman Catholic Church or the Orthodox Church, there are many in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches who wish they were in the same position that we are now moving to in the Church of England. Pope Francis, bless him, had his own difficulties this week in Rome with his own bishops in his attempts to drag the Roman Catholic Church a little further into our century. I urge him to take comfort from the experience of the Church of England during the last two or three years: if at first you do not succeed, just try again. I am sure he will have more success next year in his final Synod. Perhaps they could look at our experience and take some comfort from it.

I also want to thank all colleagues on both sides of the House who have worked very hard on the issue and have made sure that Parliament’s voice has been heard. In particular, I refer to those tireless campaigners, such as Margaret Webster, the widow of the former Dean of Norwich, who, when I was a teenager and she was one of the founding members of the Movement for the Ordination of Women, nobbled me to join that organisation. It was really my first experience of political activism. I do not know how many other Members’ first experience of political activism was on such an issue, but it taught me about the importance of perseverance, of campaigning, of not giving up, and of making and winning the arguments. Heavens, it has taken us a long time, but it gives me fantastic delight and pleasure that we are getting here tonight. There will be a lot of people out there in the country, not just women themselves, but millions of ordinary Anglicans, who will be celebrating this evening.

My question on arts funding

October 17, 2014 in Parliament

My question in yesterday’s Culture, Media and Sport Questions, on regional arts funding.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the balance of funding for arts organisations in the English regions. [905461]

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): Funding decisions for the arts are made independently of Ministers by Arts Council England, but I am delighted to say that 53% of the funding that the Arts Council recently allocated to non-profit organisations will go outside London. It is the first time that the majority of that funding will have gone outside London.

My verdict on this Government’s cycling plan

October 17, 2014 in Parliament

Below is my speech in yesterday’s House of Commons debate on cycling.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): I am honoured and humbled to follow the right hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young). The bicycle has been my main form of transport for at least the past 20 years, as it has his. It has been the only form of transport I have owned for that period. Having cycled as a child, it was logical for me to use the bike as my main form of transport, given the growing congestion in our towns and cities. The revelatory experience for me—the eureka moment—came in the mid-90s, when I was sent by “The World This Weekend” to my old primary school in Norfolk. I cannot remember what the news piece was about—whether it was about stranger danger, the safety of roads or even growing obesity—but I arrived at my old primary school to find that the bike sheds had gone. That was a shocking experience for me. Not only had the sheds gone, but in place of children coming and going by biking or walking at the beginning and end of the school day, there was traffic congestion, belching fumes, noise and chaos outside the school gates. From that moment on, I have not felt as passionate about many issues, across all public policy, as I do about this one.

Things do not have to be like they were at that school. I am glad to say that in Exeter we have bike sheds again at our primary and secondary schools. Thanks to the investment we received as part of the previous Labour Government’s cycling demonstration town scheme, we have had a massive increase in the number of children cycling and walking to school—one of the biggest increases anywhere in the country—and a huge increase of 40% in cycling levels overall. I ask those who still do not believe that we can replicate Danish and Dutch cycling levels because ours is a hilly country to come to Exeter, one of the hilliest cities in the country. We have done it. We know how it can be done, although we have a lot more to do.

The problem is that under successive Governments—I do not want this to be a party political debate—the approach taken to cycling has been a piecemeal hotch-potch; we have had a bit of funding here, a bit of targeted funding there and a grant that has to be applied for. As hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, progress has been bedevilled by the fact that there has not been sustained, real investment and sustained political leadership from the top.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): I hesitate to interrupt my right hon. Friend, who is making an excellent speech. I recently visited a Bikeability scheme at a local primary school in Bristol, where children are being trained and encouraged to feel safe on the roads. Does he share my concern that we are not putting enough money into Bikeability schemes and that doing so would be a huge step towards encouraging more people to cycle?

Mr Bradshaw: Yes, I do share that concern. I agree with my hon. Friend, who has put her finger on another important element—education, getting people cycling early and giving people the confidence to cycle. I am fortunate that in my constituency we still have a local authority that is committed to Bikeability, but, again, the service around the country is patchy because there is no sustained funding. Heaven knows, we all know what funding pressures local government is under at the moment.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend’s city has very good cycling facilities and routes, and needs to be commended for that. Does he accept that there is a slight problem, in that primary school children can be excited about cycling and encouraged to enjoy it—some primary schools do good work on that—but in secondary schools cycling becomes impossible because of bad facilities or longer journeys, or simply because it is “uncool”? We lose a lot of cyclists in the crucial teenage years and they do not come back, so somehow or other we have to do a lot more to get young teenagers and teenagers in general to keep on cycling.

Mr Bradshaw: I am sure my hon. Friend is right in what he says, although it has not been my experience in Exeter. Helped by the fantastic success of our professional cycling teams in the Olympics, cycling is now very cool and there has been a big upsurge in cycling among teenagers in my constituency. However, that is mainly because there are safe routes to the schools and facilities for people to lock their bikes and store their stuff when they get there. I am sorry to say that that is not common across the country.

It was in that context, after all the years of hard work by people such as the right hon. Member for North West Hampshire, that the all-party group, supported by The Times, decided to carry out its investigation and report in 2013. We spent days listening to evidence from experts across the field on how to get to the sort of cycling levels enjoyed in most of our neighbouring and similar continental countries. As hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, this is not rocket science; it comes down to sustainable commitments for funding and sustainable, persistent cross-departmental Government leadership.

What do we get today? A year late, we get a report that has been rushed out in time for this debate. I wanted to try to be kind about the report, which I had time to read before coming into the Chamber, but I cannot help agreeing with CTC, which has described it as “not a delivery plan” but a “derisory plan”. Once again, it is a hotch-potch of aspiration, which puts a lot of the responsibility on hard-pressed local authorities, on local enterprise partnerships—we have already heard that the record of LEPs is feeble at best, and they are also under a lot of pressure—and on business. That is deeply depressing and dispiriting, following all the debates we have had in this House, and the growing support among Members from all parts of this House and among the public for meaningful action to be taken on cycling. Seeing the report was one of the most depressing moments I have had in this House during this Parliament.

Surely we do not need to remind the Government of cycling’s benefits for health, the environment, and tackling congestion and pollution. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) reminded us about the health benefits alone. If we met the targets that our report set for 2025 of 10% of journeys by bike, up from a derisory 2% in England at the moment, we would save £8 billion in health expenditure. If we reached continental levels of 25% of journeys made by cycling by 2050, which was our other target, we would save £25 billion for the health service.

Those are just the health benefits; they do not even take into account the additional benefits of tackling congestion and emissions. I do not understand what is wrong with the economists in the Department for Transport and the Treasury who do not recognise the logic of that. The Secretary of State, who I am pleased to see in his place, is a reasonable man. He was extolling the fantastic rail renaissance that we enjoyed in England in recent years. We could be having exactly the same renaissance in cycling if only there were the political will and a tiny bit of investment. All it would need is a fraction of the Department’s budget that is going on roads or on HS2 to be earmarked for cycling, and we could achieve that £10 per head per year figure, which would begin to deliver the cycling revolution we all want.

Let me be perfectly frank: whatever one thinks of this Government report, the timing of its publication—in the last few months before a general election—probably means that the political parties’ manifestos for next May and who then forms the Government will matter much more. I want to make it clear, including to my own Front-Bench team, that there are a lot of cyclists out there and we should not underestimate the power of the cycling vote. Many towns and cities, from Brighton and Hove to Norwich, Cambridge, Oxford, my own city of Exeter and Bristol, will have hard-fought contests in marginal seats at the next election.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): The right hon. Gentleman is very kind to give way, especially as he has just mentioned Brighton and Hove. It gives me the opportunity to say that in Brighton and Hove we have the fastest growing cycle-to-work scheme outside London. Does he agree that what we need in today’s plan is far more focus on cycle-friendly design standards or guidance? We should be sharing such standards, and yet there is nothing in the plan to do or promote that. Therefore, current guidelines are very jumbled up, inconsistent and contradictory.

Mr Bradshaw: Yes, the hon. Lady is absolutely right. There is a good plan on the shelf in Wales, which the Department for Transport could simply use. There are far too many different plans, which need to be brought together in one single plan.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): May I draw the right hon. Gentleman’s attention to page 8 of the plan in which it talks about sharing best practice? It says that we will “create a single point of information about the best practice for creating and designing cycle-friendly streets.” That is in the plan and we are determined to ensure that best practice is shared among local authorities, which have ownership of the roads.

Mr Bradshaw: That was not the view of the cycling organisations this morning in their initial response to the plan.

Let me finish with this message to my Front Benchers and political parties across the spectrum. There are millions of cyclists out there, and they are waiting for real and meaningful action on cycling to deliver safe cities and a healthy environment, tackle obesity, increase happiness and boost the economy. It is a no-brainer for very little money. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) will take that message back to the shadow Secretary of State, who I know is a committed cyclist, and to his shadow Treasury colleagues.

Regional Arts Funding

October 16, 2014 in Local, Parliament

The Commons Culture Media and Sports Committee on which I sit is currently doing an inquiry into the balance of arts funding in England. This was prompted by a number of recent independent reports showing that both Government and lottery support for the arts and culture is skewed massively in favour of London and that regions like the South West lose out.

At a recent hearing of the Committee, the Chairman of the Arts Council agreed that the current situation was unfair. In fact, every witness who has given evidence has accepted that – except the Arts Minister himself, Ed Vaizey.

So in questions in the Commons today I asked Mr Vaizey why he alone refused to accept the unfairness. I invited him to study the evidence, join the consensus and do something about it.

The South West is one of three English regions that does worst. There’s a massive imbalance in terms of Arts Council funding per head of population in our region compared with London. But there’s also a big imbalance in Lottery funding. In short, we spend much more on lottery tickets than we get back in grants. In London, the opposite is the case. Of course London, with its national and world class cultural institutions is always going to receive more per head of population than other places, but everyone, except, it seems, the Minister, now accepts the gap is indefensibly large.

It is also far easier to raise philanthropic giving in the capital where you have so many big companies and financial institutions that want to associate themselves with some of our great national cultural institutions. That’s why, under this Government, arts bodies in London have managed to keep going while in the English regions many have cut back or closed completely.

In places like Exeter active and supportive local authorities, like Exeter City Council, have also done their best to keep our arts and cultural scene going. But in Somerset, for example, they have cut all support for the arts with devastating consequences.

I hope when our Select Committee publishes our report in the next few weeks the Government will finally listen, accept there’s a gross imbalance in funding and act.

All Party Parliamentary Group on South West Rail

October 15, 2014 in Local, Parliament

The Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, came this afternoon to a meeting of the All Party SW Rail Group, which I chair. He said he recognised the particular transport challenges we face in the Westcountry.

MPs and Peers from across Devon and Cornwall raised a range of issues including the need to address the vulnerability of the line at Dawlish, speeds, capacity and reliability throughout the region, the importance of branch lines and of upgrading the Waterloo to Exeter line. We also told him electrification should not end at Bristol but should be extended into our part of the region. Other rail issues raised included overcrowding and the need for better rolling stock.

There was also discussion of the importance of improving the A303. On this, the Secretary of State said he was “cautiously optimistic” progress would be able to be made.

On Dawlish, he acknowledged, in response to a question from me, that the cost benefit analysis produced on the alternatives needed to be changed because they don’t fully take into account the wider economic benefits of providing an additional line. This was particularly important because the cost benefit produced for the current consultation judges all the additional route options as “unaffordable”. A number of MPs and Peers raised this and I cited the example in Scotland where the old line between Edinburgh and Galashiels in the Borders is being reopened where the cost benefit is less than an additional line avoiding Dawlish would produce. Mr McLoughlin promised to get back to me on this point.

He also held out the prospect that further electrification would be considered in the next long term planning period (known as CP6). In my view, there is no reason why electrification shouldn’t be extended at least as far as Exeter.

The Minister stressed the benefits of the region “speaking with one voice” on its transport priorities, which is one of the reasons I initiated this group in the first place.

MPs and Peers attending were:
Lord Berkely
Ben Bradshaw MP
Baroness Dean
Andrew George MP
Gary Streeter MP
Anne-Marie Morris MP
Hugo Swire MP
Richard Gibson, CrossCountry
Dilip Sinha, Office of Rail Regulation
James Sloan, Political Consultant, DODS
Alison Seabeck MP
Hazel Phillips, Passenger Focus
Oliver Colvile MP
Sir Nick Harvey MP
Lord Teverson
Sheryll Murray MP

The Marine Charter

September 9, 2014 in Parliament

My piece on Wildlife and Countryside Link’s Marine Charter is available to read online here.

July newsletter

August 1, 2014 in Local, Parliament

The latest edition of my monthly newsletter is now available to read online here.