Last night’s Channel 4 Dispatches said that Transport for the North would only be receiving limited “advisory” powers from the Government, leading to a response from Lord Jim O’Neill calling for the Department for Transport to clarify the position “as a matter of urgency”.
In the programme, which aired at 8pm on Monday evening, Dispatches revealed that it had seen legal documents regarding the statutory position being given to Transport for the North, which said TfN’s role would be “to advise”, without having direct control over levels of investment in infrastructure.
Labour MP Dan Jarvis, who was interviewed in the programme, said the organisation was turning into a “meaningless quango”. While the realisation that TfN will not have the same spending powers as Transport for London has drawn criticism this morning, TfN responded by saying that the powers “are broadly those which were envisioned when the organisation was formed in 2015. These powers will mean that the Secretary of State for Transport has a statutory duty to consider the North’s recommendations when making transport investment decisions.”
TfN is made up of 19 local authorities, and is set to be made the UK’s first statutory sub-national transport body by the end of the year.
TfN continued: “Our partner authorities are the local transport authorities across the North who carry out many of the same functions as TfL does for London. Transport for the North’s role is not to duplicate or replace the work of these bodies. Rather, TfN’s role is to identify and plan the transport infrastructure needed to enable transformational economic growth across the North of England.”
Lord Jim O’Neill, board member of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, and former junior Government minister, described the Dispatches programme as “concerning”.
Speaking to Place North West, O’Neill elaborated: “The main aspect to remember is that it’s very important that TfN has the proper powers to deliver the transport that the North needs. While we need to bear in mind that Dispatches could be blowing it all up a bit, and the issue is more complicated than it appears, but if TfN is kept to a purely advisory role, it could be pretty useless.
“The key participants in negotiating TfN’s ongoing position; Richard Leese [leader of Manchester City Council, John Cridland [TfN chief executive], and when he was still in post, Sir Howard Bernstein [former Manchester City Council chief executive], all seem pretty relaxed, which is encouraging as it suggests this is only a stepping stone to further powers. However, if this is the permanent state of TfN, it would be completely inadequate.
“Transport officials have never jumped all over the Northern Powerhouse concept; and No.10 is not as passionate as it once was under David Cameron. However, since the Chancellor Philip Hammond visited Manchester before the Tory Party conference, and the Prime Minister referenced the Northern Powerhouse in her conference speech, at least it’s back on the agenda.
“While I’m more optimistic about the Northern Powerhouse concept getting the support it needs from Government, frankly most people around the cabinet table don’t get out of bed in the morning and think: ‘How can I help the Northern Powerhouse today?’ But there are plenty of other things happening in the North that don’t rely on Government spending, and I would encourage leaders not to get too upset when the Government announces something which puts another spanner in the works.
“It’s almost three weeks until the Chancellor’s Budget statement [on 22 November], and that will reveal the Government’s true position in terms of Northern spending and devolution.”