I’m delighted to have been invited to speak today.
Because when you look at the really big challenges we face as a country - from supporting local economic growth to tackling climate change - ADEPT members are responsible for a huge range of issues that are shaping our local communities.
And what I would really like to focus on today is how we can get the best out of the investment we are making in transport - together.
Long Term Economic Plan
Just 4 years ago we were running the largest deficit since the Second World War larger than even Greece.
So we took a series of very difficult decisions to get the country’s economy back on track. And I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for the equally tough decisions that I know you have had to take which have been essential to helping restore growth to Britain.
Today, the UK is the fastest growing major economy in the world.
The deficit is on course to be cut in half.
And there are more people in work than ever before.
But while the economic prospects are brighter than they have been since 2008, there’s still a lot more to be done.
To secure long-term, sustainable growth, we need to rebalance our economy, so the north, midlands and south west can compete with the south east.
Investing in transport
One of the most powerful ways to do that is improve our transport infrastructure.
According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development successive governments have invested less in our infrastructure than our major competitors – including the United States, Canada and France.
As a result our road and rail networks are among the most congested in Europe and that under investment has also resulted in the concentration of economic growth within London and the south-east.
For example, train journeys between Sheffield and Leeds currently take around 40 minutes. That is nearly twice as long as it takes to travel the similar distance between London and Reading.
That’s why over the next 5 years we will be investing £38 billion to improve and expand our rail network.
And we will also be making the biggest investment in improvements on the national road network in generations. We’re also investing in the absolutely vital local road network. £3.4 billion for maintenance from 2011 to 2015. That’s significantly more than in the previous 4 year period.
It is also why we will be building High Speed 2 the first new north-south railway for a generation.
So this isn’t simply more of the same.
Taken together this amounts to a completely different commitment to building better infrastructure. We are meshing infrastructure investment with economic growth in an entirely new way.
Take High Speed 2 for example. We’re not just planning the railway in isolation. From the start we are thinking about how best to maximise the value added to the local and national economy. Sir David Higgins has already begun working with Network Rail and crucially - council leaders to produce an integrated plan.
That will ensure the benefit of HS2 is not just felt north-south but also east-west from Liverpool to Hull.
And we are looking even further ahead, as the chancellor said this week, at the case for High Speed 3.
Devolving decision making
But while that investment is absolutely vital it cannot simply be just about the amount we are investing.
If we are going to continue to become more efficient, how we spend money has to change.
I have served on the board of Transport for London including during the attempt to impose a Public-Private Partnership on the tube. So I know just how important it is for the decisions that matter to be taken at the right local level.
We have moved away from the old centralising, top down, target driven culture.
The mistaken assumption was that Whitehall always knew what was best. That targets were good because they made councils focus on what central government wanted.
When the whole point of local democracy is you to know what your local people want and need and for you to be working together with your neighbours, other public bodies and private enterprise to deliver it.
Because the evidence is increasingly clear that countries where more power rests with local areas, see faster, broader based growth. That’s why we want to see local government have the power to take more of the decisions that will improve transport.
I’d like to mention 3 areas where we’ve been trying to help this happen.
Providing an effective transport network means working in partnership across different local authorities. For example, people need bus routes that reach from rural and suburban councils into city centres and they want smart tickets that operate on different networks and different modes of transport.
Take Norfolk for example. As part of an exciting pilot with my department, the county council has made sure that every bus run by every operator can accept their new smart card. Passengers in the county will soon be able to get the benefits of smart and integrated ticketing in both rural and urban areas. And this allows those operators with just a handful of vehicles who couldn’t afford the costs of setting up their own scheme to compete with the major players.
And we have taken steps to support those councils that wish to do so to collaborate more effectively. It’s also why we have supported the creation of new Combined Authorities that have the powers to collaborate more easily and integrate public transport more effectively.
Second, to be able to grow your local economy, you need your local businesses to be around the table. We want Local Economic Partnerships and Local Transport Bodies to be the place where local leaders take the decisions that will grow their local economies. So when a business comes to you with a proposal to invest and create jobs, you are in a position to be able to respond quickly. That’s why we have devolved the funding for local major transport schemes and, from this year, created the Local Growth Fund.
This will give you the power to make the choices that are right for your local economies and the certainty to be able to plan for the long term. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for the level of ambition that has been set out in the draft strategic economic plans. We will be issuing the government’s response very soon.
Finally, we have challenged Whitehall to be better at working in partnership with local government. City Deals show how this can work. We invited local areas to tell us what powers they need to grow their local economy and then worked together to come up with a long term plan for central and local government to work together.
The result is a series of agreements that will create jobs, help people back into work, build new homes and create the transport links that are needed for that to happen.
So to sum up, to rebalance our economy we are making a transformational investment in Britain’s national infrastructure and we are changing the way we work.
The word that sums up our approach is partnership.
Partnership between central and local government.
Partnership between neighbouring local councils.
And partnership with local business.
I’d really like to draw on the considerable expertise in this room. I’d like to hear from you what’s working and what needs to change.
Thank you for listening.