Category Archives: News

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

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.

Long Term Rail Strategy for the North – HMF Response

The Hannah Mitchell Foundation has submitted a detailed response to Rail North’s consultation on Long Term Rail Strategy.

It is supportive of the overall approach but argues for a stronger vision for rail in the North with a directly-elected Northern Assembly overseeing rail, instead of the joint arrangements between 33 local authorities. It wants to see a not for dividend social enterprise running the North’s rail services, with profits recycled back into the business, providing improved facilities.

 

To read the full response, click here  LTRS Rail North HMF Response

Give rail powers to The North

 

21.45 Sunday October 20th 2013

PRESS RELEASE: (immediate)

The North needs a better, publicly-owned and accountable, railway

The Hannah Mitchell Foundation – the North’s campaign for regional devolution – has called for a major enhancement of the North’s rail network with rail services managed by a directly-elected Northern Assembly and run on a not-for-dividend basis.

In its response to the Rail North consultation on its ‘Long Term Rail Strategy’ the Foundation has called for “a compelling vision which puts a publicly-owned railway at the heart of a new North”. It argues for a programme of electrification and line re-openings which would provide the capacity and jobs the North urgently needs and could be delivered more quickly than HS2 – and bring greater benefits.

Prof. Paul Salveson, General Secretary of the Foundation, said “We would like to see the re-opening of the Ashington Blyth and Tyne and Leamside Lines in the North-East , Skipton-Colne, Penrith – Keswick, Bradford Cross-Rail, re-opening of the  Woodhead Route (Manchester – Sheffield) and new  lines to Fleetwood and Skelmersdale. Many locations could benefit from new stations and a Northern-wide ‘new stations strategy’ is needed.” He added that “we need to be more creative in our vision for stations which should become social, business and cultural centres as well as transport interchanges”.

His views were echoed by Foundation chair Barry Winter who said that rail in The North should be democratically accountable. “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 33 member authorities, each with their own agenda, demonstrates the need for a single pan-Northern elected body. Scotland has responsibility for its rail network and it has worked very well; so has Merseyside- the North as a whole should have the same.”

The Foundation argues that a new approach to rail in the North should put people before profit and point to the £108m profit made by the two Northern franchises last year, despite public subsidies totalling over £600m. “We want to see a future Northern Railways which is owned by the people of the North of England – passengers and employees – and not private shareholders whose prime concern is short-term profit, said Paul Salveson. “We think this could be achievable relatively quickly, when the current franchise ends in 2016 – and we invite interested organisations and individuals to work with us to achieve it.”  Ends/ For more information ring Paul Salveson 07795 008691

Note for editors

The Hannah Mitchell Foundation is a broadly-based campaign for Northern devolution, supported by many Northern MPs and peers. Linda Riordan (MP for Halifax) is president of the Foundation. The Foundation was founded in March 2012 to lobby for devolution to the North of England and is rapidly building up support across the North of England. Its patrons include Lord Prescott, several MPs and the grandson of Hannah Mitchell. Hannah (1871-1946) was a radical activist who was imprisoned during the agitation for women’s votes. She went on to become a popular councillor in the Newton Heath ward of Manchester. Although she had just two weeks of formal schooling she was a talented writer.