Thank you for that introduction David (David Frost LEP Network Chair)
Thank you also for asking me along.
This is an important conference focused on important issues… and so I’m delighted to be here today (26 April 2011).
And one brief glance at the conference programme is proof enough that you have a packed schedule and busy day. So I promise not to take up too much of your valuable time.
In fact, when it comes to making speeches, I’m always conscious of the wise words of the 19th century politician Lord Reading whose sage advice to public speakers was “Always be shorter than anybody dared to hope”.
I’ve been in my job for some 6 months now.
And, one of the things that’s really struck me is the extent to which the transport debate can be dominated by “the national”.
The big-ticket items and large-scale infrastructure; the policies and projects; those pieces of the transport jig-saw with a genuine nationwide significance.
And I suppose that’s only to be expected.
After all, something like HS2 - a rail modernisation that will transform Britain’s social and economic geography - is bound to generate headlines and grab people’s attention from one end of the country to the other.
But the other thing you quickly learn in this job is that “local” matters hugely.
It matters because nearly all journeys start, or end, on local transport networks. And those journeys can shape your entire day, for better or for worse.
It only takes a late bus, a packed train or a congested road and a short commute becomes an endurance test and a good day turns into a bad one.
In other words, there is a direct relationship between the quality of local transport and the quality of our individual lives.
But it also has a wider impact on us all.
And that’s because an effective and efficient local transport system is the bedrock of a successful and sustainable local economy.
Whether it’s getting products into our shops and onto the shelves, or connecting businesses with the market-place and employees with the work-place, local buses, trains and roads are essential economic ingredients.
Getting local transport right
What does all that mean?
Well, it means this government has a laser focus on getting local transport right.
Investing in it, reforming and modernising it. From day one in office these have been first order priorities for us.
And let me walk you through just a few of the things we’ve been doing.
Our £560 million Local Sustainable Transport Fund will give communities more power to design and deliver local transport schemes; while our £770 million Growing Places Fund will help to help kick-start infrastructure projects.
In the Autumn Statement the Chancellor announced 20 local authority major transport schemes. And, just before Christmas, I gave the green light for a further 21 local majors. That’s an investment package worth £854 million.
And, in this year’s Budget, the Chancellor again announced investments designed to improve local transport links.
These ranged from £15 million for cycle safety in London, to supporting Network Rail to invest a further £130 million in the Northern Hub rail schemes.
We’ve reformed as well, simplifying funding by cutting the number of separate local transport grant streams from 26 to just 4.
But we’re cutting red tape too. For example, by freeing up local councils so they can remove expensive and unsightly clutter from our roads.
This is a “win-win” reform that will save money and improve the local environment.
We’re also looking at ways to devolve more responsibility for commissioning local and regional rail services - a move that could increase transparency, strengthen accountability and improve the passenger experience.
Reforms to benefit bus passengers as well:
- £70 million new funding to improve bus services, another thirty million pounds for green buses and an extra £15 million to support the roll out of smart ticketing
- new regulations to ensure healthy competition
- support for local authorities, empowering them to deliver innovative public transport solutions
- measures that will encourage more people to hop on a bus - changes that will help cut carbon emissions, ease congestion and improve the quality of services
Local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) & proposed reforms
So from game-changing reforms to major investments, we are advancing on a number of fronts.
But, as your network and this event demonstrate, it cannot stop there… because we also see a pivotal role for local enterprise partnerships (LEPs).
We now have 39 LEPs established across England - full national coverage.
And, when it comes to transport, it is you, the LEPs, who really understand the crucial importance of good transport links to your businesses and communities.
You’re the ones who know the local challenges and opportunities. The ones well placed to devise local solutions - solutions that can help boost economic growth, minimise the environmental impact of travel, improve public health and tackle social exclusion.
But, that local power and knowledge, that potential, has too often been blunted by centralised funding and bidding processes that, as you know, can be time consuming and expensive.
Our challenge, one in which we want you to play a central role, is to localise decision making. To speed it up, but to also ensure it remains rigorous, evidence based and backed up by a proper evaluation of outcomes.
And that’s precisely why we have just consulted on reforms designed to devolve decisions on capital funding for local schemes to democratically accountable local transport bodies from 2015.
With these proposed reforms we are seeking to give communities real power to deliver real improvements on everything from local roads and public transport schemes, to better pedestrian routes and new rail stations.
And I think the advantages of such a system are clear:
- targeting funding more effectively and getting the best return on every penny spent and every pound invested
- making decisions that place higher weight on local priorities and needs, while generating maximum economic growth
- saving a huge amount of time and effort that was previously wasted meeting central requirements
We have made it clear that we want LEPs to be key players in the devolved process - something that’s been broadly welcomed by the majority of those responding to the consultation.
But it’s not for us at the centre to tell you precisely how these arrangements should work in every area. What we’ve done is simply open a door. It’s up to you to walk through and take the steps needed to work effectively in partnership with local authorities, recognising the enhanced role for businesses and, of course, maintaining democratic accountability.
We’re especially keen to see a strong role for LEPs when it comes to things like investment finance, ensuring best value, or making those tough trade-offs between competing priorities.
I’m convinced our reforms have the potential to make a positive difference.
None the less, I think it’s important to recognise that achieving devolution like this is no simple task.
For example, there will obviously be a need for assurances on key areas - effective governance, financial management, accountability and the achievement of value for money.
But, then, these are matters which businesses, local authorities and LEPs deal with every day. So I am confident that, together, we can make these reforms work.
Collaboration between my department and the new transport bodies will also be important.
Make no mistake, this is a major change and we stand ready to give help and assistance to the local bodies as they approach this transition.
That process of transition will mean a managed hand-over to transport bodies when they are ready. But let me assure you, the end game is one in which central government’s role is light touch, rather than heavy handed.
So yes, we’ll be there as good partners if and when you need us.
But I am clear that our main function is to support you. To help you adapt to, and work in, a truly decentralised decision-making system so that you can meet the challenges and maximises the opportunities.
End to end travel
And one of the big opportunities out there is the potential to improve end to end trave - locally and nationally.
It doesn’t matter if they’re walking and cycling, or they’re travelling by road or rail people today demand, and deserve, a transport system that provides a properly joined-up journey from front door to final destination.
Doing that might involve something as simple as providing real time travel information, or taking full advantage of smart ticketing technology.
Alternatively, it could mean giving buses priority on roads leading to railway station forecourts and placing bus stops as close as possible to the main station entrance.
But, whatever steps we take, our ambition must be seamless connections, both between different providers and across the different transport modes.
And, in my view, if anyone can help make that happen, then it’s LEPs.
You’ll all be aware that the consultation on our proposed reforms closed at the start of this month, and we intend to produce a report on the key findings in the summer.
Alongside this we’re planning to publish indicative allocations for major transport scheme funding for local transport bodies.
As I’ve said, the changes we propose are important in their own right.
But I’d argue they are also part of a much bigger reform picture - one that I call “smart localism”.
Smart because it recognises that a one size fits all approach cannot work in a modern world where the consumer rules and the customer is king or queen
And smart because it enables local services, like transport, to be tailored to local needs.
Smart localism is a challenge to the old ways of thinking and working.
It’s a rejection of the big state
No more diktats from above; no more “Whitehall knows best”; no more treating citizens as passive recipients of standardised services.
Instead, smart localism is a declaration that those days are long gone and that the best government is self government.
It understands that people today want something different.
They want a genuine say over the issues that affect their lives and their neighbourhoods.
They want bespoke services that reflect their priorities and fit in with their lifestyles, whether it’s their bus routes or their bin collections.
And that’s what they get with smart localism. Because decision-making is devolved and power is dispersed to where it can do the most good - to local people.
Essentially it’s about replacing the straight-jacket of central control with the freedom of civic activism.
So, for me, smart localism is actually about community, in the truest sense of the word.
Okay, I promised at the start to keep things brief, so I think it’s time I brought my speech to an end.
In conclusion, I’ve argued that, when it comes to transport, this government believes local matters - to our neighbourhoods and our livelihoods… to our quality of life and our future prosperity.
But it’s concrete action that counts, not simply good intentions or warm words.
So, from investments to reforms, I’ve walked you through some of the practical ways in which we’re modernising local transport, making it fit for the demands and challenges of the 21st century.
I’ve also talked up the merits of what I call smart localism: the way that it can empower and enable: its potential to give people chances and choices because it gives them the power to control and decide - the power to “do”.
That’s why I believe in smart localism. But it’s also why I believe in you.
Because I look on you, the local enterprise partnerships, as its standard bearers - the men, the women, the network helping to spread and embed its values.
So, before I wrap things up - and because silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone - I’d like to pay tribute to the work you do and the difference you make.
You’re doing a great a job - so keep it up.
Thank you for listening and I look forward to working with you all in the months and years ahead.