PM vows to ‘do devolution properly’ as he promises to hand over rail powers
Boris Johnson has wooed northern voters, saying he trusted them to “take back control” of local train services.
Elected mayors across the north of England were promised London-style powers over local rail fares, timetables, rolling stock and stations, as the Prime Minister said he would “do devolution properly”.
Mr Johnson spoke at the Convention of the North, a meeting of 1,000 senior business leaders and politicians in Rotherham.
His speech was disturbed by a heckler, shouting, “maybe get back to Parliament?”, before he was bundled out of a fire exit by security.
Mr Johnson responded: “Indeed. I’m all in favour of our MPs.”
Elected mayors in the city regions of Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle are to get the new powers over trains.
Some gave the move a cautious welcome but noted Mr Johnson’s speech was light on details about funding.
Mr Johnson said his experience of running London Underground as mayor of the capital showed services run by local politicians run better than from Whitehall.
He said: “So today I’m announcing my intention to give the railways of the North back to the people of the North, back to the places where they were born – back to Stockton and to Darlington, back to Liverpool and Manchester.
“It is local leadership. Trusting people to take back control and run things in the way they want to.
“Only local champions can really make the difference for their towns and their communities.
“It’s time for the North to run its own trains.”
Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, has been a leading and long-standing critic of the state of transport services in the North, saying northerners are “beyond fed up” with the “chaos” on local trains.
Northern Rail’s performance has been worsening but its franchise, which Mr Burnham wants cancelled, runs until 2023.
Mr Burnham and Steve Rotheram, Mayor of Liverpool City Region, welcomed the Prime Minister’s announcement.
Mr Burnham said: “They’ve done the right thing. We’ve asked for more control over rail and we’ve been given that today. London’s had it for 20 years, we need it and we need it as soon as possible.
“I welcome the steps they’ve taken today which are about the medium to long-term.
“But they haven’t’ dealt with the issue, right in front of us, which is the disgraceful standard at times on our rail system, and that has to be gripped.”
Recent figures from the Institute of Public Policy Research North showed the north of England is set to receive £2,389 less per person than London on transport.
Mr Johnson also announced his government will also create a new Northern Powerhouse growth body to drive the region’s economy, to “maximise the power of the North”.
The Prime Minister did not say where it will be based.
Former chancellor George Osborne launched the “Northern Powerhouse” in 2014, the key idea being to improve prosperity by raising the North’s poor economic performance compared to the south and south-east of England.
The Government later closed the Sheffield office of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, moving the jobs to London.