Rail franchises scrapped and more detail on devolution - what has Yorkshire got out of Boris Johnson's first Queen's Speech?

Franchises on the railways may be scrapped as early as next year and the future of devolution in Yorkshire is set to be made clear in Government proposals announced in the Queen’s Speech.

The State Opening of Parliament on October 14, 2019. Photo: PA
The State Opening of Parliament on October 14, 2019. Photo: PA

At the State Opening of Parliament today it was announced the Government would publish a White Paper on the Williams Review.

The review is not expected to report back until later this year but the Queen said today: “Proposals on railway reform will be brought forward.”

The White Paper will be published soon after the review with reforms starting as early as 2020.

The State Opening of Parliament on October 14, 2019. Photo: PA

Boris Johnson has already teased the outcome of the review, when in September he announced plans to give Northern leaders more of a say on how the railway is run across the region. This was based on the initial conclusions of the review which were set out in July.

Northern leaders have long called for Northern Rail to be stripped of their franchise, and last year rail performance across the country hit a 10-year low.

One of the focuses of the review will be a new industry structure which would reduce fragmentation, as well as a new commercial model.

Henri Murison, Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said: “The reform of the railway industry, including more powers for the North and our city regions to integrate them with other transport like buses, is to be welcomed.

”Fares reform is particularly important because the way you can get on the tube in London and know what the fare when you touch in and out is not currently possible in the North.

"We need a Northern Oyster, or N’Oyster, as recommended by Lord Jim O’Neill in the Cities Growth Commission report, putting contactless payment together with simplification of fares. If all the wider transport operators get involved, it will make it easier and simpler to travel, encouraging people to use rail on new and refurbished trains where they are already available such as on the Northern franchise.”

While Senior Research Fellow at IPPR North, Luke Raikes, said: “Our failing transport system lets Northerners down every single day, and holds back the region’s economy.

“Since the Government started talking about the Northern Powerhouse the number of late and delayed trains has doubled, while public spending on transport has increased by twice as much per person in London as it has in the North.

“Government’s infrastructure and rail reforms must see long overdue investment in transport , which must become accountable to the people of the North. Our railways should be controlled by the North’s mayors and Transport for the North. Only then can they serve the people living here”.

The Queen also said: “A White Paper will be published to set out my Government’s ambitions for unleashing regional potential in England, and to enable decisions that affect local people to be made at a local level.”

This second White Paper will set out the “levelling up” agenda Mr Johnson announced in Rotherham last month, where he committed to devolution deals for Leeds and West Yorkshire, leaving the door open for a potential One Yorkshire deal in the future.

Interim Director of IPPR North Arianna Giovannini said: “Legislation to unlock regional potential through devolution could be a step in the right direction towards meeting long overdue promises to pass real power to the North, and places across England.

“What we need now is clarity about what kind of devolution offer Government will make. We also need clarity on other key matters like the future of local government finances.

“For too long devolution has been dictated by central government. But it doesn’t have to be this way. A Bill which provides clarity, real powers and real investments, not only to metropolitan areas but to all localities - shaped by people in their communities - could begin to turn the tide of chronic over-centralisation.”

Mr Murison added: “The commitment made at the Rotherham Convention of the North speech by the PM needs to be delivered in full, and 100 per cent devolution across the North is an ambition we are pleased is shared by the Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry as well as Boris Johnson.

“It is important that the White Paper outlines a significant further transfer of powers in Whitehall beyond the powers already transferred to Greater Manchester. Over areas such as skills and transport there is much more needed, including a devolved settlement for transport as recommended previously by the National Infrastructure Commission.”

However, a crackdown on crime dominated the first Queen's Speech of Mr Johnson's premiership.

With the Prime Minister pushing for a snap general election the legislative programme presented at the state opening of parliament is being seen as a bid by Mr Johnson to set out his campaign agenda.

The package of 26 bills include seven relating to crime and justice.

These include legislation to keep serious criminals in prison for longer, impose tougher sentences on foreign offenders who return to the UK and provide better protection for victims of domestic abuse.

With no Commons majority, it is questionable how much of the proposed legislation in the Queen's Speech ministers can get through Parliament before a general election.

And there is a major question mark over whether MPs will pass the legislative programme, which will go to a vote after several days of debate.