National Conference calls for greater devolution

March 11 2015  

National Conference calls for greater devolution

Further devolution will lead to improvements in local transport delivery, delegates to CIHT’s National Conference concluded yesterday. Votes cast at the end of proceedings revealed that the majority thought more control over local transportation matters should be wrestled away from Whitehall.

“The dam holding back English devolution could be about to spring a leak,” remarked keynote speaker Peter Box from the Local Government Association. “We are entering an exciting period in the local transport world, but need to move from the rhetoric of devolution to the reality.” Local bodies are, he claimed, better placed to deliver transportation themselves rather than being micro managed by central Government.

“Further transport devolution will become a reality after the General Election,” he predicted. “At the moment devolution is very piecemeal, but at a local level we can do far more than can be done nationally.

“We are one of the most overly centralised states in western Europe and have an opaque funding system, with over 100 different funding pots. This situation is not sustainable.”

Councillor Box made his comments following an address by Transport Minister Baroness Kramer, who told delegates that good progress is being made to devolve decision making to local communities. “The days of prescriptive top-down Government are over,” she said. “In part this is inspired by how we squeeze every drop of value out of every pound spent.

“Decision making has to be in the hands of those who understand what communities need,” she added. “Of course we need a national strategy but Local Enterprise Partnerships, cities, councils, communities and Combined Authorities have to work together to bring about positive change.”

Baroness Kramer was asked by conference chair David Quarmby if she thought the current momentum for devolution would survive a General Election if there was a change in who forms the next Government. “Over the last 18 months the idea of devolution has gone from being a strange way of thinking to being the conventional wisdom,” she replied. “I’m hoping that devolution will be deeply embedded beyond the Election and urge local bodies to continue lobbying for it.”

Later at conference Northamptonshire County Council’s Tony Ciaburro called for an end to competitive bidding through multiple funding streams - such as the Local Growth Fund, Growing Places Fund and the Total Transport Pilot Fund - to be replaced with more simple funding arrangements. Somewhat controversially, he said: “Our ask of Government is not for more money. I believe there is still plenty of money in the system but it is in different pots, coming on stream at different times.

“We need to undo the bureaucracy and this cannot be done centrally.” Professionals at a local level, he suggested, “are the only people who can sort this out”.

CIHT chief executive Sue Percy concluded proceedings by telling delegates that discussions from the day will be summarised into a series of recommendations on how to make local transport work. This will shortly be sent to UK political parties, local authority leaders and key stakeholders.

Headline sponsor Ringway and support sponsor Mott MacDonald were thanked for their contributions by the conference chair. A comprehensive report from the CIHT National Conference will appear in the April issue of Transportation Professional.

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