By Tracy Brabin
First published in The Yorkshire Post
Part of the Rose Book series by Best for Britain
Earlier this month, with his characteristic passion, Mark Drakeford told Welsh Labour conference of his simple belief that “in our brief lives, we owe a duty of care not just to ourselves, not even just to our family and friends, but also to strangers”.
This isn’t some abstract political ideal; it’s a guiding principle for governing, which Welsh Labour has done astonishingly well for over twenty years.
Just look at how they’ve used their devolved powers and funding in a cost of living crisis.
Free prescriptions for all. Free school meals for primary school pupils. A £200 winter fuel payment for people and families on low incomes. No council tax for over 200,000 households. The real living wage for social care workers. A basic income of £1,600 for care leavers.
Welsh Labour even retained the nurses bursary and education maintenance allowance (EMA) for 16 to 18-year-olds, after they were scrapped in England by the Conservatives.
It's no wonder they keep winning.
In Wales, devolution has brought power, money and opportunity closer to those in most pain. I believe it can do the same for every region and nation of the UK.
"the next Labour government will deliver the “biggest ever transfer of power from Westminster to the British people”"
And that’s not just my view. As Keir Starmer and Gordon Brown laid out in Leeds last December, the next Labour government will deliver the “biggest ever transfer of power from Westminster to the British people”.
This would be a gamechanger for West Yorkshire, for the North of England, and for local places across the UK where decades of deregulation and deindustrialisation have left our communities with very little say over the essential services they rely on.
Take buses for example. As the Mayor of West Yorkshire, I have the power to cap bus fares – a power I eagerly exercised last Autumn alongside Andy Burnham, Oliver Coppard and Steve Rotheram, when we capped fares at £2 across our regions, a population of over eight million.
In West Yorkshire my “Mayor’s Fares” saved passengers over £3 million in three months, while other parts of the country had to settle for the Government’s own belated, short-term, sub-par national scheme, announced in a blind panic.
But when it comes to routes, I’m powerless to stop private operators from slashing services to boost their bottom lines. This means we’re in the ridiculous situation where transport operators, some owned by foreign governments, have more say over fares and routes than the local communities they serve.
"it’s no wonder the majority of voters in West Yorkshire backed Leave in the Brexit referendum, motivated by the tantalising but hollow promise of “taking back control"
So it’s no wonder the majority of voters in West Yorkshire backed Leave in the Brexit referendum, motivated by the tantalising but hollow promise of “taking back control”.
Real taking back control means reforming our bus networks, so we can deliver London-style services everywhere that are affordable, reliable and sustainable. In September, Greater Manchester will become the first area outside of the capital to re-regulate buses in almost forty years thanks to a Labour Mayor. In West Yorkshire, we are on track to make a decision on public control by this time next year
Real taking back control would also mean devolving skills, careers and employment support to mayors, so we can draw up Britain’s training courses alongside local businesses, instead of trying to fit round national schemes into square regional labour markets.
It would mean empowering local leaders with greater authority over policing and culture budgets, so that women and girls could take back control of the streets they should always feel safe in, heralding a cultural revival of our towns, cities and night-time economies.
And it would mean rolling out “trailblazer” devolution deals to all Mayoral Combined Authorities across the country, as announced for Greater Manchester and the West Midlands in this week’s spring statement.
As Lisa Nandy said, we must call time on this broken, “Hunger-Games-style” system where areas are pitted against one another for the scraps off the Chancellor’s table. It’s no surprise that in this model, Tory-held and marginal seats have disproportionately benefited, according to analysis by Best for Britain.
As with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the regions of England should instead each have a direct relationship with the Treasury and proper devolved budgets, with funding allocated fairly according to local need, as opposed to the whims of Whitehall.
West Yorkshire has almost the same population as Wales. We have a £56 billion economy – bigger than nine EU countries. Yet Leeds remains the biggest city in Western Europe without a joined up, metro-style transport system. If the Barnett formula was applied to the regions of England as well as to the devolved nations, this would not be the case.
"while devolving outwards, a Labour government must also reform inwards, rebuilding trust after thirteen years of sleaze and scandal"
But while devolving outwards, a Labour government must also reform inwards, rebuilding trust after thirteen years of sleaze and scandal. If that means abolishing the indefensible House of Lords, replacing our archaic voting system for Westminster elections as powerfully advocated by Mark Drakeford, and scrapping the Government’s draconian Voter ID laws, then so be it.
Labour’s Take Back Control Bill must learn the lessons of previous Labour governments and deliver a new guiding principle for governing, built on trust in local leaders, fairness in national decision-making, and an equal duty of care to every person in the UK, no matter where they live.
Because Labour understands that for people to truly feel like control has been taken back, power and decisions must be made closer to them.