Yorkshire cities fight for local control of transport spending

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Yorkshire council leaders want to take control of transport funding and have met with the Government to lobby for devolution of powers.

Local Government Yorkshire and Humber (LGYH), a group of the region’s council bosses, believe it would “fundamentally change the way transport is delivered” and drive the region’s economy.

Chairman Peter Box, the leader of Wakefield Council, has already met with Transport Secretary Justine Greening and said she was “very receptive” to the plan.

The move would mean councils could work closer with transport operators, such as bus companies, to make sure routes and concessions were in tune with the communities they serve.

Coun Box said they wanted to avoid situations where new businesses were investing in areas, but a lack of transport meant people could not get to the new jobs.

Fears have been raised, however, that the Government would seek to use devolution as a method of cutting regional transport funding – business leaders said under the current system a major scheme such as Leeds trolleybus would be competing for funds against similar-scale projects elsewhere in the country, under a devolved system it may be competing against other schemes locally.

Coun Box said they would fight to make sure levels of funding were not cut and simply ensure decisions on when and where it was spent were taken locally rather than from Whitehall.

“The Secretary of State for Transport was very receptive to the plans for devolved funding,” he said. “Clearly we will be concerned to make sure there is no loss of funding, but really this is about making sure local operators are providing the routes needed to get people to work.

“We can’t have a situation where investors come to the region, but we can’t get people to the jobs.”

Coun Box said one area being looked at was the Bus Services Operators Grant, which if locally controlled would allow the councils to work with operators on which routes were best to subsidise.

Earlier this month it was announced that concessionary fares for children were to be increased in South Yorkshire. The fares went up from 40p to 50p last year and will increase to 60p this April.

The first rise has already seen passenger numbers fall by six per cent, according to the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive.

The transport powers could be devolved under Nick Clegg’s “city deals” agenda. The Deputy Prime Minister is offering specific deals to each major city.

The policy states: “Our ambition is to create powerful, innovative cities that are able to shape their economic destinies, with civic and private sector leaders freed to look outwards to businesses and communities rather than upwards to central government for solutions.

“To signal to cities that this Government is open to bold ideas and a genuine transfer of power, we have set out an initial menu of things that we would be willing to discuss and negotiate as part of the deal-making process.”

Leeds and Sheffield City Councils have already revealed their forthcoming bids are to be widened to incorporate their respective city region areas.

This means the powers would also encompass Bradford, Wakefield, Kirklees, Calderdale, York and parts of North Yorkshire in Leeds’s case; and Doncaster, Rotherham, Barnsley and parts of the East Midlands in Sheffield’s.

The move comes as the five biggest cities in the North joined forces to put more pressure on the Government to fund the Northern Hub rail programme.

The leaders of Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle and Sheffield City Councils have written jointly to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to “stress how important it will be” for the Treasury to commit to the £560m scheme, in full, for delivery between 2014 and 2019.

The Northern Hub proposals are being considered by the Government, and a decision will be taken later in the year. Parts of the scheme – the electrification of the Trans-Pennine route and funding for the Ordsall Chord to connect two of Manchester’s main stations – have already been approved.