Jim O'Neill

O’Neill: TfN advisory role would be inadequate

Jessica Middleton-Pugh

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.”

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Nice to know that TfN means that Government will have ‘to consider the North’s recommendations’ on transport before ignoring them. Does ANYONE actually believe this Government cares at all about the north, or even knows where it is?

By Peter Black

No government since the war has cared about the North. Not since we stopped paying for everybody else’s infrastructure with our natural resources and industrial muscle .There is no other region in Europe which has been totally abandoned by its own governments like the North of England.

By Elephant

Where does this leave the TfN now? So has this all been a total waste of time and ambition?

By Man on Bicycle

The only option is an alternative political voice, if either of the main parties fear losing votes they’ll soon start listening. If a party like UKIP can drive the UK to leave the EU with 1MP then I’m pretty sure a party for the North would finally make Whitehall take the area a bit more seriously.

By Logenberry

The “party for the north” thing has been tried already, and fell flat on its face.

“Northerners” as an identify is entirely artificial. Instead, it’s a series of local identities, each containing their own issues and concerns, and each with a predominant component of political apathy fed by an appalling local press.

The only time government has had to do anything for the north is when it’s had the potential to embarrass the government at national level. Only Greater Manchester has really been able to tap into that, and these days they no longer have to.

The primary driving force behind any campaign for the north has had its fill and is happy with its lot. TfN to TTfN?

By Mike

When has the ‘party for the north thing’ been tried and failed?

By Logenberry

As if we needed any more reasons to despise the current shower in Govt any more…

By MancLad

I think “Northerner” as an identity has been forced on us.It is an identity comparable to being Scottish, Welsh, or Irish. For years we have been treated as the poor relation in England, so we have separated ourselves from Englishness. The North has nothing in common with the rest of England and never really has had.

By Elephant

I can imagine a few ego’s may have been dented at TfN, after this rebuke. It certainly has put them in their place, but what else do we expect from the lipservice we are served by the Government.

By Man on bicycle

“The Northern Party” only a couple of years ago. Big names, launch, well resourced. That people haven’t even heard of it shows how badly it failed.

I realise that I can’t speak for people in Manchester, Leeds or York when I say this, but do I as a person in Liverpool identify as a “northerner”? No, not even as a subset. I’m in the north geographically, but either it doesn’t exist as an identity at all or at the very least I’m not of it. Scouse, Liverpudlian, Wirralian, Liverpolitan… but I’m not “Northern” and when I hear Northern, Northerner I don’t instinctively recognise it’s addressing me or my area.

Political representation relies on engagement to work, so does have to work with identities, whether local or national.

“The North” is I think a convenient label for Westminster, but in reality it flounders in practice because it’s not a real place (or if it is a real place, it’s including parts that don’t belong).

By Mike

Mike, the ‘Northern Party’ was the Lancashire equivalent of the Yorkshire Party at the time, not a party to cover the whole of the North of England. That wasn’t even in its manifesto. And it’s a shame you don’t consider yourself a ‘northerner’, being from Liverpool. The Beatles must have done judging by the name of song writing company – ‘Northern Songs’. Whilst it is a loose term, clearly any region, or country for that matter has in reality fluid not fixed boundaries. Living in say, Glossop, doesn’t automatically preclude somebody from identifying themselves as Northern or otherwise. Its about a region as a whole being more reliant and connected due to their proximity and relatively common identity working together rather than relying on Whitehall who obviously consider us second class citizens

By Logenberry