Labour is committed to devolving more power over transport to England’s largest cities and is reviewing how best to reverse bus deregulation, the shadow transport secretary has said.
In her speech to the Labour conference in Liverpool, Maria Eagle said the previous Labour government did not go far enough in devolving funding and decision making powers over transport, but the party’s policy review was now looking to address the issue.
“Local and regional rail services. Investment in our roads. These are decisions that should be made locally, by integrated transport authorities. Not just in our major cities but right across the country,” she said.
She added that on buses Quality Contracts did not go far enough and that cities across the country needed powers like in London, “to deliver bus services in the way that best suits each community”.
“Quality Contracts were a good start. But the incentives to use them just aren’t there and the risks too great. In too many places: No accountability. No way for local communities to set priorities. Profits, not passengers, too often driving decisions. So, our policy review is looking at the right way to reverse bus deregulation,” she said.
Ms Eagle added that the policy review was also addressing how to “tackle the fragmentation of our rail industry that is the disastrous legacy of the Tory privatisation”.
“Because it is madness that the taxpayer has to pay compensation to train companies while track is repaired - even though it’s essential to run their services. It is madness that the taxpayer then pays the same company again, so that their bus division can provide a rail replacement service.
“I think that if your train is replaced by a bus, your ticket should cost less. But under our fragmented industry, that won’t happen. Because the train companies will just pass on the cost to the taxpayer.
“The country wants us to find a better way to deliver rail service in Britain. That’s what we heard loud and clear in our policy review.”
In the wake of the government’s decision to hand the £1.4bn Thameslink contract to Germany’s Siemens, precipitating the loss of more than 1,400 jobs at Derby-based manufacturer Bombardier, Ms Eagle also called for the government to hand responsibility for ordering London’s new Crossrail trains to Transport for London, as there was “no faith that [the Department or Transport] will give British manufacturing a fair chance”.
She also called for the government to commit to extending the planned high speed rail line beyond Birmingham.
“The Tory-led Government is only planning to take powers to construct the line as far as Birmingham which casts real doubt on their long term commitment to delivering high speed rail in the north. They should think again and ensure the whole route is included in the forthcoming legislation.”