New Northern Transport Acceleration Council 'will put rocket boosters under powerhouse plans', says Grant Shapps

A new northern transport body will "put rocket boosters" under the Government's plans to improve the region's economy after years of frustratingly slow progress, Grant Shapps has claimed.
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But the Transport Secretary was accused last night of "scapegoating" the body that already exists to provide a voice for the North for the slow progress being made on delivering major projects.

Mr Shapps told The Yorkshire Post said the Northern Transport Acceleration Council would provide "direct action" to get major schemes delivered and contrasted it with existing strategic body Transport for the North (TfN), which he described as being "by definition a talking shop".

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The creation of the new body, which meets for the first time in September and will be chaired by Mr Shapps or one of his team, is said to give northern leaders a "direct line" to Ministers to speed up the delivery of projects.

But it raises questions over the future of TfN, which the Government said would "transform transport across the North of England" when it was given statutory status in 2017.

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Though its recommendations must be considered by government, it is reliant on the Department for Transport for funding and does not have the power to instruct other agencies on projects like the Transpennine Route Upgrade.

Asked what role TfN would play, Mr Shapps told The Yorkshire Post: "With Transport for the North they have been quite good at convening people together. I have spoken to northern leaders previously who said 'we didn't really get together, we weren't talking a lot before'.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps. Pic: PATransport Secretary Grant Shapps. Pic: PA
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps. Pic: PA
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"Transport for the North has helped that to happen but also as a mechanism for trying to prioritise, what should be done and when. So Transport for the North has been fulfilling that role, what I'm doing with the Northern Council today is, if you like, direct action.

"I think everybody is frustrated, we've got this great idea of the Northern Powerhouse, let's make it actually meaningful, let's have it mean something by which I mean, let's get on and do things now, and Ministers are the right way to get that done.

"And I want to make sure that I've got a very open ongoing conversation with all the northern leaders and that's what the Northern Transport Acceleration Council enables us to do."

Earlier this month the Department for Transport told The Yorkshire Post that TfN was moving "much too slowly" in its plans for the flagship Northern Powerhouse Rail scheme.

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Asked if he agreed, Mr Shapps said: "I wouldn't want to get into a blame game of who has done what and when. It is true that we all ought to be prioritising and getting on with it and I include government in that number.

"One of the features of course is that if you get 40 or 50 leaders together by its very nature, that is somewhere where you come together and you talk, it is by definition a talking shop when you do that.

"And that's good, it serves a purpose. I think we also need to get on and deliver which is why Northern Council puts rocket boosters under the process."

Public service union Unison yesterday wrote to TfN board members calling for them to raise concerns about the new organisation.

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Kevan Nelson, Unison's North West Regional Secretary, wrote: "The Department for Transport already controls every aspect of funding, oversight and delivery of transport infrastructure.

"It is through this model that we have seen long delays to schemes like the Transpennine rail upgrade, an investment that has universal support in the North and that would unlock and enable growth and jobs across our cities, towns and villages.

"What the North needs isn't another committee run and directed by the government, from Whitehall, re-announcing schemes that it has already spent a decade failing to deliver. It needs real investment and real devolved powers, to create and sustain jobs in the North.

"Our members within TfN are dedicated public servants, with a deep professional and personal commitment to improve public transport across the North. To be treated in such a manner where they are drip fed information via the national media and made to be scapegoats for systemic failings entirely beyond their control is inexcusable."

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Earlier this week, TfN chief executive Barry White hit back at suggestions his organisation was a "talking shop".

He said: "So let’s be clear, the Department for Transport already control every aspect of rail upgrades in the North: funding decisions, business case processes and oversight of Network Rail.

"The Government has direct control of every element that sets the speed of delivery.

"Transport for the North was established with limited powers, mainly to provide advice to Government and so, yes, we do talk.

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"We talk with the North’s 20 political figureheads and business groups on their priorities and clear recommendations on the investment the North has long been promised and is well overdue.

"But we do not have the powers or devolved budget to instruct work or take the decisive action that we all collectively need. A situation we hope will soon change."