Category Archives: Blog

Will the North get German quality rail services?

August 20th 09.30

Foreign state-owned groups do well in Northern rail franchise shortlists

The Hannah Mitchell Foundation, the campaign for northern regional government, says that the short-listed bidders for the Northern and TransPennine Express franchises should work with the communities of the North of England to make sure we get a rail service that compares well with Germany, France and The Netherlands – where most of the bidders are based. “It’s ironic that – especially with Northern – the short-listed bidders are almost entirely foreign state-owned railways,” said Foundation secretary Paul Salveson. “Lets hope that we get a Northern railway system which bears comparison with the excellent servcies enjoyed in Germany, the Netherlands and France”.

The Foundation has called for a new approach to how our railways are run, with a directly-elected Northern assembly supervising a well-resourced executive team which would manage a publicly-owned rail network – Northern Railways – bringing the two franchises together. “It’s not right that the future of our rail network in the North will be decided primarily by civil servants in London,” said HMF chair Barry Winter. “An incoming Labour government in 2015 needs to make sure that when the franchises start in February 2016 that the North sees the beginning of a transformation in our rail services, not more of the same,” he added.

“A key issue will be rolling stock: the North has made do with life-expired trains which need shunting into the scrapyard sidings,” said Paul. “New rolling stock should be built here in the North, instead of exporting jobs to foreign manufacturing bases,” he added.

The shortlisted bidders to run the 2 franchises are:

  • Northern:
    • Abellio Northern Ltd (Dutch)
    • Arriva Rail North Limited  (German)
    • Govia Northern Limited (35% French)
  • TransPennine Express:
    • First Trans Pennine Express Limited
    • Keolis Go-Ahead Limited (French)
    • Stagecoach Trans Pennine Express Trains Limited

North needs a rail revolution

18.00h August 15th 2014

To the news editor

PRESS RELEASE: (immediate)

The North needs a rail revolution, not mean-minded ‘trade-offs’

The Hannah Mitchell Foundation – a campaign and think tank supporting Northern regional government, has sent a strongly-worded response to the Government’s consultation on the future Northern and TransPennine Express franchises which start in February 2016. It has called on Ed Miliband and his transport shadow secretary Mary Creagh to commit an incoming Labour Government to major changes to the franchise if the Government persists with a cuts agenda. It wants a new fleet of trains to replace the unloved and life-expired ‘Pacers’ – and for the trains to be built in the North.

“The Government consultation talks a lot about ‘trade-offs’ between investment and cuts to on-train staff and booking offices. We completely reject that and want to see the growth we’ve seen on rail over the last 10 years encouraged more, not choked off” said Foundation chair Barry Winter. “Stations should be centres of activity, with even small stations acting as community hubs with small shops and space for community groups.”

The Foundation stresses the importance of new rolling stock for the increasingly over-crowded rail services across the North. “Many of the trains that are running around the North are well past their sell-by date,” said Foundation secretary Professor Paul Salveson. “We need a new generation of diesel as well as electric trains to replace the old ‘Pacer’ and ‘Sprinter’ trains. And crucially, these new trains should be built in the North of England, the home of railways, not in Germany or France.”

“It must be a ‘growth’ franchise, not the ‘steady state’ approach which has served the North so badly since 2005,” said Barry. “We want to see an expanding network with re-openings across the North, including Skipton – Colne, a new line to Skelmersdale, the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne network and York to Hull via Market Weighton. Routes such as Calder Valley desperately need electrification and a Bradford cross-rail would help transform the West Yorkshire rail network, as part of a wider strategy lining regional rail with the proposed ‘HS3’ route across the Pennines.”

The Foundation rejects the current franchising system which will see ‘the usual suspects’ of major private companies and foreign-state owned railways bidding. “We have seen enough profit exported from our under-funded railways to private shareholders or foreign state-owned railways,” argued Paul Salveson. “Our railways in the North should be accountable to people in the North, run by a not-for-profit company which involves employees and passengers and re-invests any surplus back into the railway”.

The Foundation supports union efforts to keep staff on trains. “Having a conductor on trains isn’t just about collecting revenue and opening and shutting doors, it’s about having a visible presence to help and assist passengers and provide a sense of security – as well as vital support in the case of emergencies. We want to see trains that are properly staffed with a stronger focus on passengers and their needs”, said Professor Salveson, himself a former railway guard who became a senior manager with Northern Rail.

HMF suggests that the consortium of 30 local authorities called Rail North, – “very much a ‘junior partner’ in the partnership with the Government which is letting the new franchises”, should be strengthened and given full responsibility – and the funding to go with it – to manage and develop the rail network. Ultimately, Rail North should be accountable to a directly-elected assembly for the North as a whole, ensuring real accountability and a fully joined-up approach to transport and wider development.”

The Foundation wants to see transport integration taken much more seriously, with improved bus links and safe cycling and walking routes to stations. Trains should have more space for bikes and luggage, with the option of safe cycle storage at stations.

The franchises do not start until February 2016. “There is every possibility of Labour sweeping to power in May 2015, said Barry. “It would be absurd for an incoming Labour Government to preside over a new Northern franchise which fails to meet the needs of passengers, staff and the wider community,” he stressed. Ed Miliband and his transport shadow secretary Mary Creagh would win huge support if they committed a Labour Government to major changes to the Northern franchise proposition, putting the needs of people and not profit first.”

The full response is here: http://www.hannahmitchell.org.uk/2014/08/15/railways-a-better-network-for-the-north-accountable-to-the-north/

More information: Paul Salveson 07795 008691

Railways: a better network for the North accountable to the North

Hannah Mitchell Foundation

Response to Northern and TransPennine Express Consultation

Note: The consultation on the new Northern Rail and TransPennine Express franchise ends on August 18th. The franchise is being let by the Department for Transport in partnership with Rail North, a consortium of 30 local authorities across the North of England. See also our press release in ‘news’.

The Hannah Mitchell Foundation is a campaign for regional devolution to the North of England. We see transport as a key element of a strategy for sustainable development across the North as a whole and rail must play a central part in an overall transport strategy.

We welcome the opportunity to comment on proposals for the Northern and TransPennine Express franchises and these comments build on our earlier responses to the Long term Rail Strategy draft produced by Rail North. Our comments are ‘broad-brush’ – we are aware of the many detailed responses from local rail user groups to the consultation and detailed strategic responses from organisations such as Passenger Focus and Passenger Transport Executive Group, which we fully endorse. We would not wish to comment on detailed local issues. The following points include references to the particular consultation question (e.g. TO 1, OTH 1, etc.).

The key points we would make are:

  • We are very concerned at suggestions for unacceptable ‘trade-offs’. There has been major growth across the entire Northern rail network and this needs to be encouraged, not choked off by disproportionate fare rises and staff cuts. Passengers value a human presence both on trains and at stations. We reject the view that fares across the North are substantially lower than the national average: there is considerable variation (as shown by Passenger Focus and other responses e.g. PTEG) but even in seemingly ‘low fare’ areas passengers do not feel they get value for money because of the poor quality and perceived reliability of the service. (TO1,TO 2)
  • A key issue for the new franchise is rolling stock and we welcome recognition of this. The North needs new trains, not having to rely on cascaded stock from elsewhere. To accommodate growth there needs to be a new generation of regional train, both diesel and electric, which meets high standards of comfort and accessibility. Crucially, these trains should be built in the North of England, ensuring maximum economic benefit to the North from new investment. (TO2)
  • Having two franchises rather than one creates potential for sub-optimal connectivity. There needs to be very close co-operation between the two franchises and our preference for the long-term would be a single Northern network with three core business units – premier, commuter and rural (community rail).  (NTP 2)
  • We remain unconvinced by the benefits of a franchising system which embeds a very high cost of bidding (thus excluding co-ops and social enterprises) and exports profit out of the system to private shareholders or foreign state-owned companies. Furthermore, the relatively short timescales of both franchises does little to provide the long-term stability that the railways need. (OTH 1)
  • The franchise needs to fully embrace sustainable development in all its aspects including the social and economic as well as environmental. The consultation document and prospectus is weak on environmental benefits and could say much more on social inclusion. It needs to present a compelling vision which puts rail at the heart of a new North. The franchises should be very closely aligned with a wider vision for balanced sustainable development across the North – and not just the large conurbations. (OTH 1)
  • For the long-term, we need a railway which is run for the benefit of the people and communities of the North, based on co-operative principles, ensuring a high level of passenger and employee involvement. A long-term concession would be preferable to short-term franchising. However, in the short-term the successful bidder should be encouraged to develop deliverable plans for involving employees and passengers and be incentivised to procure goods and services from local businesses included social enterprises. (OTH 1)
  • We firmly believe that having a well-rewarded work force results in a well-run railway with satisfied passengers. Reducing staff at stations and on trains is a recipe for low morale, poor service and a less safe railway. Stations need to have people – a visible human presence. On trains, there needs to be a person other than the driver whose prime job is to look after passengers: a combination of retail, general assistance (e.g. disabled people, parents with prams etc.) and ensuring personal safety and security. That person, however defined, should have defined operational responsibilities e.g. train protection in emergencies. Measures need to be developed to make railway staff feel more valued and engaged in the running of the business. Developing opportunities for young people to pursue a railway career, through well-structured apprenticeship schemes, working in partnership with the education sector, is of great importance and should form a part of the franchise requirement.
  • We need to be more creative in our vision for stations which should be social, business and cultural centres as well as transport interchanges and we welcome the encouragement the consultation gives to this. (COM 1, COM 2, TO 3)
  • We welcome suggestions that the Ashington Blyth and Tyne network might report. The franchise needs to have a wider vision for network development which includes  Bradford Cross-Rail, Skipton-Colne, Woodhead Route and Skelmersdale (possibly served by Merseyrail). Many locations could benefit from new stations and a Northern-wide ‘new stations strategy’ which uses social cost benefit criteria which gives strong weight to social and environmental factors would be very welcome. (TO3)
  • We are aware that considerable work is being done on governance issues and lobbying to ensure that Rail North takes on greater franchising responsibilities. Our strong view is that Rail North should, in future, be answerable to a directly-elected Northern Assembly with a transport committee comprising elected members working closely with an experienced executive team. Rail North, with its 30 member authorities each with different agendas, is without doubt the best possible example of the need for a single pan-Northern elected body. (OTH 1)
  • In the short-term, the governance of Rail North should include representation of strategic interests beyond just the member authorities, with representatives from passenger organisations, the business community and voluntary sector. Rail North should be adequately resourced to take on responsibilities for managing the franchise from Day One. (OTH 1)

Hannah Mitchell Foundation

August 2014

Scotland and The North: strengthening bonds of citizenship and solidarity

Building new bonds of citizenship: Scotland and the North

Paul Salveson

Based on speech to Red Pepper/Hannah Mitchell Foundation/Reid Foundation event in Preston, August 12th 2014

The Hannah Mitchell Foundation is about generating interest in democratic and inclusive regional government for the North. We have a very strong interest in what is happening in Scotland and we’re immensely excited by the flowering of ideas and debate. As a body we are neutral between the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaign: it is for the people of Scotland to decide on their future, and whichever way the vote goes, we want to strengthen our links with radical campaigners north of the border. Hannah Mitchell herself – an outstanding democratic socialist, feminist and co-operator – would have been excited by events taking place in Scotland. She said “We must work as though we live in the early days of a better nation.” And that is what Scotland is going through at the moment. The ferment of ideas goes way beyond the SNP, embracing a wide cross-section of society and involving the Greens, Scottish Socialist Party, many Labour Party members and a huge number of people who have not been involved in ‘politics’ before. The following comments are my own personal views: within HMF we encourage different ideas and approaches: I am for Scottish independence, for reasons I’ll explain. Other colleagues want Scotland to stay within the UK.

Here in the North of England there is a growing sense of grievance about the widening gap with London and the South-East. It is economic and social: as yet it hasn’t really developed a political expression but it’s going that way. The newly-formed ‘Yorkshire First’ party won nearly 20,000 votes in the European elections, after only being in existence a matter of weeks, with a tiny budget. Similar moves are afoot in the North-east and there are signs of interest in a pan-Northern political movement. As a member of the Labour Party I want to see my own party embrace the idea of directly-elected regional government on a similar basis to the governance enjoyed by Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London. Hanging some money over to unaccountable ‘combined authorities in the city regions is not an adequate response. We need a real vision for the English regions within an over-arching Federal Britain.

As things stand, people in the North are watching events in the North of England with mixed feelings. I don’t detect any ‘anti-Scots’ sentiment despite the intense London media hostility to Salmond and the nationalists. Quite a few people I speak to in the North say ‘good luck to ‘em’ and a few even express the idea of moving the border a hundred miles further south! Within the Labour Party there are quite a few of us at the grassroots who support independence, and I’ll explain why in a moment. Most are against, for two main reasons. One is the electoral maths: an independent Scotland would mean fewer Labour MPs and the possibility of a permanent Tory majority. In fact the experience since the war has shown that in most general elections when Labour won, it would still have had a majority without its Scottish MPs. The second reason has perhaps more resonance: a Scot-free England would become even more unbalanced with the North being abandoned as the south-east ‘powerhouse’ steams ahead. There is a very real risk here, regardless of who wins the election next year. Labour seems concerned to demonstrate it is not just ‘the party of the North’ even though it’s where most of its support lies. It wants to win votes in the south – and there’s a certain irony that while the Tories (who need to win seats in the North) are coming up with suggestions for major investment  – such as the HS3 high-speed line from east to west – Labour is silent or cynical. The issue of an unbalanced England, with an increasingly rebellious Wales, will become more and more pronounced driving demands for real devolution within England. A highly centralised England with only London enjoying its own regional government will be unsustainable. Change will have to come and it will be driven by a new coalition of political forces. We can learn much from the tactics of the radical independence campaigners in Scotland who have mobilised new forces and adopted very different tactics which Robin McAlpine will be telling you about in his speech. There are thousands of people out there who want change but feel dis-empowered by politics south of the border.

Let’s look at some more arguments against independence, from a ‘Northern English’ perspective. The recent ‘love bomb’ from 200 ‘celebrities’ organised by Dan Snow was, on one level, laughable. In fact quite a few comedians, ranging from Bruce Forsyth and Ronnie Corbett to George Galloway figured strongly. I wouldn’t take guidance from any of them – would you? But one of the things Snow said did make sense. He wanted to retain the ‘bonds of citizenship’ which unite us. However, in reality the ‘bonds of citizenship’ between Scotland and England are invariably mediated via London and its Westminster bubble. Citizenship is not an abstract idea, it is about real, living links between people. These can, and do, cross national borders. I have more friends in the Irish Republic than Northern Ireland: the border is irrelevant. I very much hope over the coming months we can strengthen our ‘bonds of citizenship’ with the people of Scotland, whatever the outcome of the vote. The same goes for class solidarity. Some on the left have argued that independence is either irrelevant or an obstacle to ‘class solidarity’. Why? We’ve seen precious little of this class solidarity in recent years; I’d welcome more collaboration between trades unionists across the UK. But again, the border is irrelevant. It’s interesting that a growing number of union activists have embraced the ‘yes’ campaign even if the London-based- leaderships are against. And it’s a reflection on how our political elites generally – in all the unionist parties from Tory, Liberal Democrat to Labour – plus the media and the political commentariat – are largely, and often hysterically, anti-independence. No wonder – they stand to lose power and status. That can only be a good reason to vote ‘yes’.

A ‘yes’ vote will have a major impact on the British state, showing that ‘another world is possible’. Yes, it is a leap in the dark. Nobody really knows how an independent Scotland will perform, though the experience of other emergent nations is that after a possibly bumpy start they will blossom. The alternative is to continue with the status quo, perhaps a bit more devolution, but continuing with the shared neo-liberal agenda embraced by the main parties. I think Scotland really would ‘blossom’ politically, economically and culturally – and encourage some shoots of radical growth in England.  We need to develop a debate with our friends in Scotland and Wales – and Ireland – about what a future democratised British Isles would look like. That debate needs to take place outside and beyond the London-based elite.

The first step for a new Federal Britain is a ‘yes’ vote on September 18th. Some of you may have seen the excellent ‘Radical Lives’ programmes recently presented by Melvyn Bragg. On Saturday he featured that great English radical, Tom Paine, who played a key role in an earlier ‘independence’ struggle for what became the United States of America. He said “We have it in power to begin the world over again”. Over two centuries later those words still ring true. We should reject the politics of fear and conservatism and embrace radical change in these isles.

Scotland, the North and Devolution – meeting in Preston

 

August 1st 2014 10.00 a.m.

To the news editor

PRESS RELEASE: (immediate)

Scotland, the Referendum and the North: open meeting in Preston

A discussion/meeting is being held in Preston on Tuesday August 12th to discuss the impact of the Scottish referendum on the North of England. It starts at 7.00pm in The Continental pub, South Meadow Lane, Preston PR1 8JP. Speakers are  Robin McAlpine Director, Jimmy Reid Foundation www.reidfoundation.org and  Prof. Paul Salveson Director, Hannah Mitchell Foundation www.hannahmitchell.org.uk and Jenny Nelson of  Red Pepper www.redpepper.org.uk

On 18 September, Scotland votes on whether to become independent. Scotland this summer is alive with civic debate on this momentous decision. Robin McAlpine and the Radical Independence Campaign are at the most exciting cutting edge of this debate, as they imagine and argue for a totally new, better Scotland. Here in the North of England, the Hannah Mitchell Foundation has been formed to campaign for devolution in the North. The big question is:  What are the implications of a ‘yes’ vote for the North of England? The event in Preston will explore the issues and is open to everyone. There is no charge for admission.

Paul Salveson of the Hannah Mitchell Foundation said “We are delighted to take part in this important debate. More and more people in the North of England recognise that we are being marginalised in British politics and we need some of the powers which Scotland, Wales and even London already have. Whatever the outcome of the referendum, the North needs to get its act together and unite behind a vision of a new, dynamic and inclusive North which has friendly and mutually beneficial relationships with Scotland and the rest of the UK. We don’t want a few crumbs but strong, directly-elected regional government working with empowered local government which gives the North the leadership and direction it desperately needs”.

The Jimmy Reid Foundation was set up in honour of the late Jimmy Reid, one of Scotland’s foremost radical campaigners.  It aims to bring together voices and minds from across the spectrum of left politics in Scotland – socialists and social campaigners, feminists and anti-racist campaigners, environmentalists and the peace movement.  It aims to reach out to the SNP and the Labour Party, the left and green political parties, campaigners and academics, artists, thinkers, writers and anyone else who wants to see a fairer, greener, more equal and happier Scotland.

Jenny Nelson, of Red Pepper, said:  “Independence means the potential to move beyond the politics of austerity, neo-liberalism and empire. The prospect of having a radical neighbour trying new ways of doing politics is a very inspiring possibility for many of us in England.”

 

Ends/

For more information on above events ring Paul Salveson 07795 008691

Scotland, the North and Devolution

August 1st 2014 10.00 a.m.

Scotland, the Referendum and the North: open meeting in Preston

A discussion/meeting is being held in Preston on Tuesday August 12th to discuss the impact of the Scottish referendum on the North of England. It starts at 7.00pm in The Continental pub, South Meadow Lane, Preston PR1 8JP. Speakers are  Robin McAlpine Director, Jimmy Reid Foundation www.reidfoundation.org and  Prof. Paul Salveson Director, Hannah Mitchell Foundation www.hannahmitchell.org.uk and Jenny Nelson of  Red Pepper www.redpepper.org.uk

On 18 September, Scotland votes on whether to become independent. Scotland this summer is alive with civic debate on this momentous decision. Robin McAlpine and the Radical Independence Campaign are at the most exciting cutting edge of this debate, as they imagine and argue for a totally new, better Scotland. Here in the North of England, the Hannah Mitchell Foundation has been formed to campaign for devolution in the North. The big question is:  What are the implications of a ‘yes’ vote for the North of England? The event in Preston will explore the issues and is open to everyone. There is no charge for admission.

Paul Salveson of the Hannah Mitchell Foundation said “We are delighted to take part in this important debate. More and more people in the North of England recognise that we are being marginalised in British politics and we need some of the powers which Scotland, Wales and even London already have. Whatever the outcome of the referendum, the North needs to get its act together and unite behind a vision of a new, dynamic and inclusive North which has friendly and mutually beneficial relationships with Scotland and the rest of the UK. We don’t want a few crumbs but strong, directly-elected regional government working with empowered local government which gives the North the leadership and direction it desperately needs”.

The Jimmy Reid Foundation was set up in honour of the late Jimmy Reid, one of Scotland’s foremost radical campaigners.  It aims to bring together voices and minds from across the spectrum of left politics in Scotland – socialists and social campaigners, feminists and anti-racist campaigners, environmentalists and the peace movement.  It aims to reach out to the SNP and the Labour Party, the left and green political parties, campaigners and academics, artists, thinkers, writers and anyone else who wants to see a fairer, greener, more equal and happier Scotland.

Jenny Nelson, of Red Pepper, said:  “Independence means the potential to move beyond the politics of austerity, neo-liberalism and empire. The prospect of having a radical neighbour trying new ways of doing politics is a very inspiring possibility for many of us in England.”

 

Ends/

For more information on above events ring Paul Salveson 07795 008

Scotland, the North and Devolution

August 1st 2014 10.00 a.m.

To the news editor

PRESS RELEASE: (immediate)

Scotland, the Referendum and the North: open meeting in Preston

A discussion/meeting is being held in Preston on Tuesday August 12th to discuss the impact of the Scottish referendum on the North of England. It starts at 7.00pm in The Continental pub, South Meadow Lane, Preston PR1 8JP. Speakers are  Robin McAlpine Director, Jimmy Reid Foundation www.reidfoundation.org and  Prof. Paul Salveson Director, Hannah Mitchell Foundation www.hannahmitchell.org.uk and Jenny Nelson of  Red Pepper www.redpepper.org.uk

On 18 September, Scotland votes on whether to become independent. Scotland this summer is alive with civic debate on this momentous decision. Robin McAlpine and the Radical Independence Campaign are at the most exciting cutting edge of this debate, as they imagine and argue for a totally new, better Scotland. Here in the North of England, the Hannah Mitchell Foundation has been formed to campaign for devolution in the North. The big question is:  What are the implications of a ‘yes’ vote for the North of England? The event in Preston will explore the issues and is open to everyone. There is no charge for admission.

Paul Salveson of the Hannah Mitchell Foundation said “We are delighted to take part in this important debate. More and more people in the North of England recognise that we are being marginalised in British politics and we need some of the powers which Scotland, Wales and even London already have. Whatever the outcome of the referendum, the North needs to get its act together and unite behind a vision of a new, dynamic and inclusive North which has friendly and mutually beneficial relationships with Scotland and the rest of the UK. We don’t want a few crumbs but strong, directly-elected regional government working with empowered local government which gives the North the leadership and direction it desperately needs”.

The Jimmy Reid Foundation was set up in honour of the late Jimmy Reid, one of Scotland’s foremost radical campaigners.  It aims to bring together voices and minds from across the spectrum of left politics in Scotland – socialists and social campaigners, feminists and anti-racist campaigners, environmentalists and the peace movement.  It aims to reach out to the SNP and the Labour Party, the left and green political parties, campaigners and academics, artists, thinkers, writers and anyone else who wants to see a fairer, greener, more equal and happier Scotland.

Jenny Nelson, of Red Pepper, said:  “Independence means the potential to move beyond the politics of austerity, neo-liberalism and empire. The prospect of having a radical neighbour trying new ways of doing politics is a very inspiring possibility for many of us in England.”

 

Ends/

For more information on above events ring Paul Salveson 07795 008

Strengthening Local Capacities – a review of The Adonis Report

New Report on Strengthening Local Capacities for Economic Rejuvenation:

Why it gets it better (than currently), but still gets it wrong*

By Jeffrey Henderson, Professor of International Development, University of Bristol

Early July saw the publication of Andrew Adonis’ Labour Party commissioned report on how to deal with Britain’s badly lop-sided and under-productive economy. It’s a report that’s potentially important not merely for what it has to say, but because some of its ideas are likely to form the basis of government policy should May 2015 see the election of a Labour government.

For those interested in economic rejuvenation in the North of England, the Report contains some good ideas and proposals. These range from how to assist the local clustering of companies in the same or cognate industries so as to strengthen knowledge transfers and technological synergies, to improving technical education and delivering more and better skilledworkers. There’s a strong emphasis on the need to help the growth of small companies and to work with business to help drive innovation. It’s also good to see a senior Labour Party figure – probably for the first time since Robin Cook was Shadow Minister for Trade and Industry (1992-94) – argue strongly and cogently for the need for industrial policy. However, it’s the report’s focus on the role of cities and ‘regions’ in ‘mending’ our economy that’s likely to receive most attention.

The report recognises that the current Local Enterprise Partnerships (agencies led by local councils that incorporatebusinesses to help promote economic development) and Combined Authorities (legally constitutedamalgams of local councils in the same region focussed on the improvement transport and economic development)are an uncoordinated mess. For instance, each local council can be part of more than one Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and the boundaries between LEPs and Combined Authorities (CAs) do not coincide. Having little institutional coherence and lacking control over the financial resources they need to help drive development, LEPs and CAs have little autonomy from central government (in spite of Westminster pronouncements to the contrary). Rather than re-work the structure of regional economic governance, however, the report argues that the current arrangements can be rendered fit for the purposes of rejuvenating local economies.

Adonis and his colleagues seek to expand the numbers of CAs from the five current ones and render the LEPs coterminous with them. They argue for a greater devolution of resources from central government and for the CAs to be allowed increased autonomy over their tax base (specifically retaining 100% of business rates) and the use of those revenues. They seek to encourage coordinated forms of cooperation between business, universities, local governments, central government departments and other agenciesin the interests of formulating locally targeted industrial polices designed to drive innovation, create jobs, boost exports etc. So far then, so well intended. Unfortunately, for all the report’s good intentions, they will be insufficient to pull the trick of substantial economic rejuvenation – given the extent of the problems in the North and similar regions – and sustainable development from then onwards.The reason stems from four major concerns on which the report is deafeningly silent.

The first concerns democratic participation in the institutions that will help drive local economic development. Adonis and his colleagues – quite rightly – incorporate into the report, ‘a view from business’ (to which a whole chapter is devoted). In tune with the New Labour priorities that dominate the report, however, one searches in vain for a ‘view from organised labour’ or from community organisations. Indeed,while the report’s researchers interviewed representatives of manufacturing companies, banks, universities, colleges, local governments etc., the only trade union agency that anyone appears to have bothered with was Unionlearn: the TUC’s skills training initiative. Clearly, unless a consensus among all interested parties on both the means and ends of economic transformation is built at local and regional levels, the likelihood for conflict, during the transformation process, will be high.

Also missing from the report is engagement with other centrally important issues that current arrangements fail to address.  For instance, it does not discuss the potentially vital issue of who – institutionally – coordinates industrial policy formation across the regionally proximate CAs and LEPs and adjudicates the conflicts of interest that will inevitably arise between them (say, between the Greater Manchester and Liverpool CAs); who, in other words, will be responsible for the region-wide economic planning that will be necessary? Additionally there is no acknowledgement in the report that under its proposals, local (sub-regional) economic development will continue to rely largely on financial disbursements from central government as even the entire business levy is unlikely to generate the level of funding necessary given the enormity of the economic problems that confront some of the regions. What is more, the report pays no attention to the fact that however successful its proposals might be, were they to be implemented, they would still be vulnerable to the ideologies and preferences of whatever Party was in office in Westminster (just as the Regional Development Agencies – founded in 1998, abolished in 2012 – were).  As the British state works informally, without a written constitution, such initiatives would have no guarantee of long-term continuity.

The ultimate problem with the report, however, is that its authors do not understand (or refuse to countenance) that building the ‘smarter’ state they desire cannot be achieved in the context of the Westminster dominated state that the report’s proposals would do little to transcend.In Britain we are lumbered with a fundamentally pre-modern state. Consequently a smarter state requires the formation of a different state. In a nutshell, the vision of a better economic future that Adonis and his colleagues look forward to, cannot be delivered without the re-formation of the British state as a Federal state; a state which by definition would be grounded on a written constitution.

 

*  Adonis Review (2014), Mending the Fractured Economy: Smarter State, Better  Jobs. London, Policy Network.