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Labour Will Move Real Power to the Regions

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.

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