Thank-you. It’s a pleasure to be here today.
As you probably know, I’ve been in politics quite a while.
In fact I’ve been Transport Minister twice with a gap of 20 years in between.
And in that time I’ve heard a lot of ministers speak eloquently about how things are best done locally – while doing the precise opposite.
For decades, they’ve been preaching devolution, while planning and orchestrating it from their Whitehall offices.
And it hasn’t worked.
So I understand why you might be a bit suspicious whenever there’s a new outbreak of that enduring “ism” – localism.
But today I want to talk about why something big is changing in how we run our country.
And I want to talk about the role that transport can play in that.
First of all, today’s conference is proof in itself that we are serious about change.
We’re here because you represent a new force in government: local partnerships bringing business and government together to change the way we think about localism.
Not the theoretical, unworkable localism of the past, but localism that is practical and deliverable, that responds to local conditions, and local communities, and that balances growth across the UK – not just in the south east.
Local decision making is particularly important in transport.
Because the transport issues that most concern people are local in nature.
Congestion. Road safety. Bus and train services. Issues that are not just understood better by local people and businesses, but that are best solved by them too.
That’s why the DfT has been at the front of the queue to involve and empower local enterprise partnerships (LEPs).
I’ll be honest.
Many in government had doubts.
Could local partnerships succeed where others have failed in the past?
Well you are already proving that you can.
You’ve been helping us make the case for HS2, a scheme that has the potential to change the economic geography of the UK.
This year you start making the decisions on where funding for local major transport schemes should be targeted from 2015.
This is a fundamental part of our commitment to devolve responsibility for transport, and streamline government.
Because LEPs are in the best position to target investment more effectively, and get the best value for money.
Under the last government, local major schemes were managed through the regional funding allocation, which meant central government remained the ultimate decision maker.
It was a top-down system with a thin veneer of localism.
But with the new structure, we will be genuinely shifting power away from Whitehall into the hands of local transport bodies, accountable at the local level, and responsive to local economic conditions.
You’ve also played an important role in the delivery of our £170 million Local Pinch Point Fund, which the Chancellor announced in last year’s autumn statement.
And I’d like to thank you for your help so far.
It’s a new way of prioritising schemes.
And it’s already making a real difference.
Because tackling road bottlenecks is one of the most effective ways we can remove obstacles to economic growth.
In March I made £25 million available to get cracking with the first 10 schemes.
The first – a £6.8 million project to increase capacity on Northampton’s ring road, and improve access to the Northampton waterside enterprise zone R1; has already begun construction.
Work on others is starting this spring.
They include an upgrade to the notorious A40 and A4010 Chapel Lane junction in Buckinghamshire, and improvements to the Clock Tower junction in Harlow, Essex.
Four of the 10 schemes will boost transport links around enterprise zones – reflecting our commitment to support local economies.
We’ve also announced a further 58 pinch point schemes to reduce congestion on Highways Agency roads – again, with your help.
And we’re delivering a programme of 24 major road schemes – including 4 new ones announced in the autumn statement.
For example, the £60 million A30 Temple to Higher Carblake scheme in Cornwall will relieve congestion, reduce journey times, and improve links between Cornwall and the rest of the country.
Another vital project is the A453 dualling between M1 Junction 24 and the A52 Nottingham ring road.
This is a major stretch of road serving the East Midlands and East Midlands Airport – and the £150 million improvements will not only help address congestion, but also make the route safer.
Of course devolved transport isn’t just about roads.
We are also moving ahead with plans for further rail devolution.
And earlier this year we also launched the competition for local transport authorities to become designated as Better Bus Areas.
All this means there will be tremendous opportunities for devolved bodies over the next few years.
Not just in transport, but across government.
And I’m sure that later today Lord Heseltine will expand on those opportunities in the light of his “no stone unturned” report.
Government has now accepted the majority of Lord Heseltine’s recommendations.
This includes the single local growth fund to cover housing, transport and vocational training.
The clear message from government is that there certainly won’t be any slowing down in the rate of decentralisation.
On the contrary, we’ll be looking to accelerate.
So the work to set up local transport bodies (LTBs) - and to prioritise transport schemes by this summer - will go ahead as planned.
The strategic growth plans which LEPs are currently preparing will be integral to the deal that we negotiate with each local partnership.
We have set out the criteria we will use in those negotiations.
But the scale of the resources available will depend on the current spending round.
So there is an opportunity over the next few weeks for LEP chairs to make clear which spending programmes they think should be included in the Single Local Growth Fund.
So, to sum up.
This is a time of great fluidity in government: a time or innovation and new ideas.
The challenges we face as a country are very different to those we faced a few years ago.
And we need to translate thoughts and policies into jobs and growth faster than ever before.
How we do that involves not just central government.
But everyone here today.
LEPs are uniquely positioned to help us get devolution right.
Making the trade offs that will deliver the best value results for your areas.
Using the knowledge and experience of businesses and local authorities.
Supporting economic growth from the ground up.
With your help, we can set local government in Britain on a new course.
And emerge with a model of localism that will change this country for good.