LabourTowns

Our towns our future

Sign up for more information and to support the work of Labour Towns. Towns are the back bone of Britain, and we want our towns to get a fair deal. That’s why Labour MPs, councillors, party members across the country are coming together to demand an end to the Tory austerity that is widening the divide between towns and cities, and to champion new ideas and plans from Labour councils, councillors and MPs.

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This morning the Government announced a 'Stronger Towns Fund' of £1.7 billion to be spent over the next 7 years.

Yvette Cooper MP chair of the Labour Towns group commented:

“This Government announcement shows that long campaigning for more investment in towns from local government, MPs and the Labour Towns group has had an impact and we need to keep up the pressure as new investment is important.

 

But spreading the money over 7 years is too little to close the widening economic gap between cities and towns or to turn around towns that are still being hit by austerity and are crying out for new investment.

 

“We need to see the details now on how many towns this fund will help and what scale of investment it will provide. At a time when towns are still seeing public services move to big cities, and libraries, swimming pools, children’s centres and community centres all close, we need to know when local government will get enough money to reverse those cuts. Job growth in our towns has been just half the rate as in our cities since 2010, so new investment needs to be significant enough and part of a strong industrial strategy for towns to turn this round.

 

“New investment is important and must be part of a wider strategy and programme to deliver a fair deal for towns that are still being hit by austerity. 

 

“We will keep pressing for proper industrial strategy for towns including giving towns their fair share of transport investment, local government funding and public services provision. We’ll continue to campaign for a fair deal for our towns”.

Yvette Cooper MP responds to Govts 'Stronger Towns Fund'

  This morning the Government announced a 'Stronger Towns Fund' of £1.7 billion to be spent over the next 7 years. Yvette Cooper MP chair of the Labour Towns group commented: “This Government announcement shows that long campaigning for more investment in towns from local government, MPs and the Labour Towns group has had an impact and we need to keep up the pressure as new investment is important.  

 

This morning the Government announced a 'Stronger Towns Fund' of £1.7 billion to be spent over the next 7 years.

Yvette Cooper MP chair of the Labour Towns group commented:

“This Government announcement shows that long campaigning for more investment in towns from local government, MPs and the Labour Towns group has had an impact and we need to keep up the pressure as new investment is important.

 

But spreading the money over 7 years is too little to close the widening economic gap between cities and towns or to turn around towns that are still being hit by austerity and are crying out for new investment.

 

“We need to see the details now on how many towns this fund will help and what scale of investment it will provide. At a time when towns are still seeing public services move to big cities, and libraries, swimming pools, children’s centres and community centres all close, we need to know when local government will get enough money to reverse those cuts. Job growth in our towns has been just half the rate as in our cities since 2010, so new investment needs to be significant enough and part of a strong industrial strategy for towns to turn this round.

 

“New investment is important and must be part of a wider strategy and programme to deliver a fair deal for towns that are still being hit by austerity. 

 

“We will keep pressing for proper industrial strategy for towns including giving towns their fair share of transport investment, local government funding and public services provision. We’ll continue to campaign for a fair deal for our towns”.

Yvette Cooper MP responds to Govts 'Stronger Towns Fund'

  This morning the Government announced a 'Stronger Towns Fund' of £1.7 billion to be spent over the next 7 years. Yvette Cooper MP chair of the Labour Towns group commented: “This Government announcement shows that long campaigning for more investment in towns from local government, MPs and the Labour Towns group has had an impact and we need to keep up the pressure as new investment is important.  

  1. Devolution: England

Theresa May’s Government is paralysed. Even on the central issue of Brexit, the Government she leads is incapable of presenting, let alone, delivering policy. The Regional Prosperity Fund is her model for delivering public investment across the UK after the UK leaves the EU. However, no detail has been presented of how the fund would work. This must be addressed urgently. Under the Coalition Government, the Conservatives seized the political initiative on devolution in the run up to the 2015 General Election. Their policies of  “English Votes for English Laws” and the “Northern Powerhouse” were direct responses to the political concerns of voters in England to the perceived advantages given to voters outside England by the post-1999 devolution settlement. Both initiatives been resonant politically but limited in their practical impact. Nonetheless, for the Conservatives, especially in the 2015 General Election, they worked. The Conservatives secured an overall majority in 2015, not just by taking seats from the Liberal Democrats in the south of England, but also by holding seats in the North of England which Labour had expected to win.

The Conservatives succeeded in presenting themselves as champions of both devolution in England and of the North. Both “English Votes for English Laws” and the "Northern Powerhouse”. Both policies have survived through two General Elections as concepts and have contributed to the Conservatives retaining the political initiative on devolution in England. The development of Growth Deals and the establishment of elected Mayors, not just in parts of the North, but also in the West Midlands and Bristol and other regions of England has taken the agenda forward, though impetus on this agenda has now slowed.

The momentum behind the Conservative English devolution initiative began to falter following the 2015 General Election, as the complexity of asymmetric governance arrangements became apparent. It stalled further following the arrival of Theresa May in Downing Street and the departure of George Osborne, the driving force behind the “Northern Powerhouse” policy. Ministers like Jim O’Neill left the Conservative Government shortly after Osborne and the new Prime Minister has never, even at her strongest, conveyed enthusiasm for a devolution strategy within England. The result of the 2017 General Election and its erosion of the Prime Minister’s political authority lessened development of devolution policy England still more, with so much of the Government’s attention focussed on leaving the EU.

In response to the Conservative initiatives, Labour struggled, in both the 2015 and 2017 General Elections, to develop a coherent devolution policy for England. In both 2015 and 2017, Labour’s English regional devolution policy was underdeveloped.  There were tensions displayed within the Labour Party between directly elected mayors and Labour local councils and a confused general response to “English Votes for English Laws” and the “Northern Powerhouse” as policy initiatives. Though devolution under a Tory Government continues to promise far more than it actually delivers, it still seems that the political initiative in the area rests with the Tories as Labour struggles to construct a coherent, consistent vision of devolution within England

 

2. Devolution in England: A Close-Up View from Wales

I have been MP for Wrexham since 2001 and, therefore, have direct experience of devolution in Wales. Wrexham is a constituency on the north Wales/England border and is close to, and influenced by the great northern English cities of Liverpool and Manchester. Both cities are within one hour's drive of Wrexham.

North Wales is part of a unique economic region in the United Kingdom - one that crosses a national border. It has an economy which is integrated with that of north-west England and has services, in both the public and private sector, which are delivered and, planned to be delivered, across the border. Hospitals such as Christies in Manchester and Walton and Alder Hey in Liverpool provide the highest quality health care to people in North Wales.

The devolution settlement established in Wales in 1999 has always struggled to accommodate North-East Wales. There has been a tension between those wishing to construct intra-Wales services, for example, proposing, at one time, treating NHS patients from North Wales in Swansea, over three hours away, and those who are relaxed with a model of treating patients from Wales in hospitals in England, less than an hour away.

Just as the Welsh Government has struggled with these policy issues in the past, now the UK Government is encountering the tensions of devolution in England, trying to integrate the inflexible concept of "English Votes for English Laws" with the practical reality of, for example, patients from Wales being treated in English hospitals. There are representatives elected from North Wales on the boards of Hospitals in England but, under the EVEL provisions, MPs from Wales are excluded from stages of legislation affecting those hospitals in Parliament. The reality is that the Conservative Government's position does not reflect the position on the ground, though the practical impact of EVEL remains limited.

The Conservatives have refused to apply the governing principle of EVEL to the other devolved jurisdictions: Thus, we have no "Welsh Votes for Welsh Laws" in the UK Parliament, no "Scots Votes for Scots Laws" and no "Northern Irish Votes for Northern Irish Laws". For there are, even with devolved jurisdictions in existence, matters still dealt with by the UK Parliament that are particular to specific parts of the UK. For example, broadcasting in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland is not devolved so that legislation relating to S4C and BBC Alba will still be dealt with by the UK Parliament. The result is that a majority of MPs from Wales and Scotland could take a different view on these politically sensitive areas from MPs in England yet still be outvoted by them on issues affecting Wales and Scotland alone. This is illogical and unfair.


The Conservatives' EVEL proposals would be much more compelling and persuasive if they allowed MPs from the United Kingdom outside England the same rights as MPs from England. That the Conservatives will do not do so reveals their true agenda: not to deal with the unfairness of different models of devolution within the UK but, rather, to send a political signal to voters in England that they are doing something, albeit something limited, on the issue. For the practical impact of EVEL is very limited indeed: even in this Parliament where the Conservatives have no overall majority, there will be no areas where Tory English MPs will be outvoted by MPs outside England. It is, in addition, deeply ironic that the Conservatives are now relying on votes from the Democratic Unionist Party to maintain their overall majority in Parliament, even though those MPs are excluded from some legislative measures which are ruled to apply to England only.

The EVEL provisions, perhaps by accident, do, however, include an idea of great significance and power, one that can be built on to help address the complex constitutional challenges posed by devolution right across the UK. That idea of the creation of an English Grand Committee within the House of Commons is central to the policy’s operation. I believe that this idea should be developed further by politicians who want to see real, sustainable reform of the House of Commons and take it further by the creation of Regional Committees across the UK.

 

3. Devolution across the UK: Regional Committees in the UK Parliament

The public do not want more politicians. At the heart of Tony Blair's defeat in the campaign to set up a Regional Assembly in the North East of England was the powerful image of such an institution being a "White Elephant", doing nothing useful and costing a fortune. The Conservative EVEL rules help present us with an opportunity. For the creation of an English Grand Committee, made up of MPs who are already elected, sets up a body capable of scrutiny with no additional elected, costly members. We should consider this as a model for scrutiny of legislation and budgets by Regional Committees, not just in England, but across the UK.

As an MP from Wales, I am very conscious of the differentiation of roles for politicians created by the devolution settlement across the UK. Some political roles are devolved to the Welsh Government, the most prominent of which is health. Yet, my constituents have limited appreciation of the level of Government which deals with their issues. Frankly, they do not care. They think that if they have a problem and it is of sufficient importance for them to go to their MP about it, he should deal with it. This view does not only extend to matters devolved to the Welsh Government. Barely a weekly surgery goes by without an issue being brought to me which is the responsibility of the local council and I deal with it. I know that my Parliamentary colleagues in England and elsewhere do the same. Yet the Parliamentary process makes little concession to either the devolution settlement or the developed role of MPs as constituency advocates. Politicians at different levels of governance operate as if they were on different floors of an office block which governs: local government on the ground floor, in devolved jurisdictions, MSPs, AMs or MLAs on the second floor, MPs on the third floor and MEPs, at the moment, on the floor above them. The time is right, in appropriate cases, to put those representatives on the same floor to scrutinise together in the interests of our constituents. The EVEL proposals, suggesting the creation of a separate Parliamentary Committee on a geographical basis to deal with appropriate legislation gives an indication of how to achieve this.

For many years, I have advocated, as an MP from Wales, MPs and AMs working together on joint committees for the benefit of our constituents. The health issues set out above are examples of issues that need joint work to reflect the reality of NHS provision. There has been great resistance to this proposal. Some see it as undermining the principle of devolution. But devolution is not separatism: it is incumbent on those of us who want devolution to work to work together, not separately, to make it work in practice. We must leave separatism to the nationalists.

Parliament and the devolved legislatures need to, in their  procedures, recognise the role of devolved institutions by incorporating them into the scrutiny process. It must also recognise that this will mean MPs working in joint committees with MSPs, AMs and MLAs and with local government. Such committees must, of necessity, be constituted on a regional basis. Just as the Conservatives propose creating a Committee of MPs in England in its EVEL proposals, Labour should go one step further and propose the creation of committees of MPs on a regional basis within England to scrutinise matters relating to that region. In England, this will mean extending committee membership to local government leaders. In Wales and Scotland, this will mean Scottish Parliament and Assembly Committees admitting MPs and Parliamentary Committees admitting MSPs and AMs as well as, where appropriate, local government leaders. In the devolved jurisdictions administrative responsibility for the committees could rest with the devolved Parliaments.

In appropriate cases, such committees could even extend across national borders, so that a committee could deal with issues which transcend boundaries, reflecting the reality of the situation on the ground for my constituents in, for example, the cross-border region on the England/Wales border part of which I represent.

Such committees will more accurately reflect the present governance of the UK. Governance is a process which integrates different levels of government and these committees will do the same.

 

4. Devolution within Wales: the Next Steps

As further powers are transferred from Parliament to the National Assembly for Wales, or Welsh Parliament as it will become, calls have increased for an increase in the size of membership of the Welsh Parliament. But the public in Wales, or anywhere else, do not appear to want more politicians. There is, however, a need for both stronger structures for Government at all levels within Wales and for stronger scrutiny of the Welsh Government. Both could be achieved by the development of regional structures within Wales.

There is a massive concern in North Wales, a concern which has existed since the birth of the National Assembly in 1999, that the Assembly serves south-east Wales, and Cardiff in particular, very well, but has not delivered for distant areas of Wales.

Under a new First Minister, the Welsh Government has appointed a Minister for North Wales and that Minister will be accountable to a North Wales Regional Committee. Membership of the Committee should include not just AMs but MPs and representatives of local government in the area. All have their own democratic mandates and can contribute to more strategic policy development for North Wales. There is a very strong appetite in the area for such a body. I established the All Party Group for North Wales/Mersey/Dee in the UK Parliament in 2015 and it has been enthusiastically supported not just by politicians at all levels of Government but also by business, universities and other regional organisations. It set up a forum which led to the formal establishment of the North Wales Economic Ambition Board, now playing a crucial role in the delivery of a North Wales Growth Deal.

In this way, the need for more accountability is resolved without more politicians and a more cohesive, effective regional body is created within North Wales.

I have no doubt that this model can also be applied in other parts of Wales, as well as, if demanded, everywhere else in the United Kingdom. It could begin to address the complex patchwork of regional bodies which have emerged in a disparate, uncoordinated way in the last 5 years.

 

 

Devolution: The Thirst for Change

Recent political history shows us that there is a thirst for regional roles in UK politics. Following their initial steps on EVEL and the Northern Powerhouse, the Coalition and Conservative UK Government created Ministers with regional responsibilities. As well as the long-established Scotland Office, Wales Office and Northern Ireland Office, the Government has introduced a Minister for the Northern Powerhouse. The development of Regional Growth Deals has led to a succession of Ministers being given, formally in some cases, informally in others, regional responsibilities. Parliament, as well as the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly, should, equally, be operating on a regional basis, both to scrutinise the executive roles of regional Ministers and to act as a conduit between Government at a national and at a local level.

The success of the establishment of the All Party Group for the North Wales/Mersey/Dee region has convinced me that there is a demand for a place where the interests of a particular geographical region can be discussed, developed and advanced. It means that MPs, local government, business and other important institutions within that area can be part of a body which is not summoned on an ad hoc basis, but is permanent.

The concept of regional representation in Government is not new. As Prime Minister, Gordon Brown introduced Regional Ministers in England. Though abolished by the Coalition Government in 2010, they had provided a focus for local government to connect with central government. As a Business Minister in 2009-10, I dealt with Regional Ministers, especially in connection with economic development matters.

The Coalition UK Government created a Minister for the “Northern Powerhouse” and some other areas of England, as well as continuing with the established UK minsters for the nations of the UK. It is, by stealth, adopting the model which existed before 2010. Such Ministers, however, need to be accountable. It would make much more sense, rather than have some areas with geographical representation and some without, to have an ordered arrangement of regional Ministers, accountable to regional committees in the House of Commons with those committees formally linked to local government and other important regional bodies, including, in England, Local Enterprise Partnerships. Where appropriate, we should establish committees of elected representatives, MPs, AMs and Councillors who can hold the appropriate Ministers to account and drive forward the agenda to improve economic, transport and public service connections within their area. We need to create flexible political structures which respond to the reality of the lives of our constituents.

An ordered arrangement would also address a serious anomaly developing in the current Conservative devolution arrangements within England. At present, the development of elected Mayors focusses attention on city areas at the expense of towns and rural areas. My own experience is that it is necessary to have political structures in place linking towns in order to create the capacity for strategic transport and economic initiatives. Regional Committees of the House of Commons can offer such a structure, one without which progress for those areas is nigh on impossible. My own experience is that even the creation of a less formal All Party Group for a region in Parliament can bring local authorities, politicians at different levels of Government, business and other important local institutions together to achieve real progress. So much more could be achieved by the establishment of formal Regional Committees.

These Regional Committees can work with the UK Parliament and also the Parliaments and Assemblies of the nations in the UK.

The tragedy of so much of the constitutional reform since 1999 is that it has tinkered in a piecemeal way with our constitution, without considering impacts on our constitution as a whole. Though there is, in my view, an unanswerable case to establish a Convention addressing the UK Constitution as a whole, I believe the introduction of Regional Committees in the House of Commons, and in the devolved institutions, working with other regional bodies, can begin the process of addressing the huge political and economic imbalances which exist at present and are creating huge resentment in the nations and regions of the UK. The Government has suggested the establishment of a Regional Prosperity Fund following Brexit. Little detail of its role and structures exists. It could work with Regional Committees of the House of Commons as part of a long overdue shift towards the development of better structures to bring fair wealth distribution across the UK. Such an innovation is long overdue.

Ian Lucas MP - Regional Committees in the House of Commons: A Positive Response to Make Devolution Work across the United Kingdom

March 12, 2019

Devolution: England Theresa May’s Government is paralysed. Even on the central issue of Brexit, the Government she leads is incapable of presenting, let alone, delivering policy. The Regional Prosperity Fund is her model for delivering public investment across the UK after the UK leaves the EU. However, no detail has been presented of how the fund would work. This must be addressed urgently. Under the Coalition Government, the Conservatives seized the political initiative on devolution in the run up to the 2015 General Election. Their policies of  “English Votes for English Laws” and the “Northern Powerhouse” were direct responses to...

  1. Devolution: England

Theresa May’s Government is paralysed. Even on the central issue of Brexit, the Government she leads is incapable of presenting, let alone, delivering policy. The Regional Prosperity Fund is her model for delivering public investment across the UK after the UK leaves the EU. However, no detail has been presented of how the fund would work. This must be addressed urgently. Under the Coalition Government, the Conservatives seized the political initiative on devolution in the run up to the 2015 General Election. Their policies of  “English Votes for English Laws” and the “Northern Powerhouse” were direct responses to the political concerns of voters in England to the perceived advantages given to voters outside England by the post-1999 devolution settlement. Both initiatives been resonant politically but limited in their practical impact. Nonetheless, for the Conservatives, especially in the 2015 General Election, they worked. The Conservatives secured an overall majority in 2015, not just by taking seats from the Liberal Democrats in the south of England, but also by holding seats in the North of England which Labour had expected to win.

The Conservatives succeeded in presenting themselves as champions of both devolution in England and of the North. Both “English Votes for English Laws” and the "Northern Powerhouse”. Both policies have survived through two General Elections as concepts and have contributed to the Conservatives retaining the political initiative on devolution in England. The development of Growth Deals and the establishment of elected Mayors, not just in parts of the North, but also in the West Midlands and Bristol and other regions of England has taken the agenda forward, though impetus on this agenda has now slowed.

The momentum behind the Conservative English devolution initiative began to falter following the 2015 General Election, as the complexity of asymmetric governance arrangements became apparent. It stalled further following the arrival of Theresa May in Downing Street and the departure of George Osborne, the driving force behind the “Northern Powerhouse” policy. Ministers like Jim O’Neill left the Conservative Government shortly after Osborne and the new Prime Minister has never, even at her strongest, conveyed enthusiasm for a devolution strategy within England. The result of the 2017 General Election and its erosion of the Prime Minister’s political authority lessened development of devolution policy England still more, with so much of the Government’s attention focussed on leaving the EU.

In response to the Conservative initiatives, Labour struggled, in both the 2015 and 2017 General Elections, to develop a coherent devolution policy for England. In both 2015 and 2017, Labour’s English regional devolution policy was underdeveloped.  There were tensions displayed within the Labour Party between directly elected mayors and Labour local councils and a confused general response to “English Votes for English Laws” and the “Northern Powerhouse” as policy initiatives. Though devolution under a Tory Government continues to promise far more than it actually delivers, it still seems that the political initiative in the area rests with the Tories as Labour struggles to construct a coherent, consistent vision of devolution within England

 

2. Devolution in England: A Close-Up View from Wales

I have been MP for Wrexham since 2001 and, therefore, have direct experience of devolution in Wales. Wrexham is a constituency on the north Wales/England border and is close to, and influenced by the great northern English cities of Liverpool and Manchester. Both cities are within one hour's drive of Wrexham.

North Wales is part of a unique economic region in the United Kingdom - one that crosses a national border. It has an economy which is integrated with that of north-west England and has services, in both the public and private sector, which are delivered and, planned to be delivered, across the border. Hospitals such as Christies in Manchester and Walton and Alder Hey in Liverpool provide the highest quality health care to people in North Wales.

The devolution settlement established in Wales in 1999 has always struggled to accommodate North-East Wales. There has been a tension between those wishing to construct intra-Wales services, for example, proposing, at one time, treating NHS patients from North Wales in Swansea, over three hours away, and those who are relaxed with a model of treating patients from Wales in hospitals in England, less than an hour away.

Just as the Welsh Government has struggled with these policy issues in the past, now the UK Government is encountering the tensions of devolution in England, trying to integrate the inflexible concept of "English Votes for English Laws" with the practical reality of, for example, patients from Wales being treated in English hospitals. There are representatives elected from North Wales on the boards of Hospitals in England but, under the EVEL provisions, MPs from Wales are excluded from stages of legislation affecting those hospitals in Parliament. The reality is that the Conservative Government's position does not reflect the position on the ground, though the practical impact of EVEL remains limited.

The Conservatives have refused to apply the governing principle of EVEL to the other devolved jurisdictions: Thus, we have no "Welsh Votes for Welsh Laws" in the UK Parliament, no "Scots Votes for Scots Laws" and no "Northern Irish Votes for Northern Irish Laws". For there are, even with devolved jurisdictions in existence, matters still dealt with by the UK Parliament that are particular to specific parts of the UK. For example, broadcasting in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland is not devolved so that legislation relating to S4C and BBC Alba will still be dealt with by the UK Parliament. The result is that a majority of MPs from Wales and Scotland could take a different view on these politically sensitive areas from MPs in England yet still be outvoted by them on issues affecting Wales and Scotland alone. This is illogical and unfair.


The Conservatives' EVEL proposals would be much more compelling and persuasive if they allowed MPs from the United Kingdom outside England the same rights as MPs from England. That the Conservatives will do not do so reveals their true agenda: not to deal with the unfairness of different models of devolution within the UK but, rather, to send a political signal to voters in England that they are doing something, albeit something limited, on the issue. For the practical impact of EVEL is very limited indeed: even in this Parliament where the Conservatives have no overall majority, there will be no areas where Tory English MPs will be outvoted by MPs outside England. It is, in addition, deeply ironic that the Conservatives are now relying on votes from the Democratic Unionist Party to maintain their overall majority in Parliament, even though those MPs are excluded from some legislative measures which are ruled to apply to England only.

The EVEL provisions, perhaps by accident, do, however, include an idea of great significance and power, one that can be built on to help address the complex constitutional challenges posed by devolution right across the UK. That idea of the creation of an English Grand Committee within the House of Commons is central to the policy’s operation. I believe that this idea should be developed further by politicians who want to see real, sustainable reform of the House of Commons and take it further by the creation of Regional Committees across the UK.

 

3. Devolution across the UK: Regional Committees in the UK Parliament

The public do not want more politicians. At the heart of Tony Blair's defeat in the campaign to set up a Regional Assembly in the North East of England was the powerful image of such an institution being a "White Elephant", doing nothing useful and costing a fortune. The Conservative EVEL rules help present us with an opportunity. For the creation of an English Grand Committee, made up of MPs who are already elected, sets up a body capable of scrutiny with no additional elected, costly members. We should consider this as a model for scrutiny of legislation and budgets by Regional Committees, not just in England, but across the UK.

As an MP from Wales, I am very conscious of the differentiation of roles for politicians created by the devolution settlement across the UK. Some political roles are devolved to the Welsh Government, the most prominent of which is health. Yet, my constituents have limited appreciation of the level of Government which deals with their issues. Frankly, they do not care. They think that if they have a problem and it is of sufficient importance for them to go to their MP about it, he should deal with it. This view does not only extend to matters devolved to the Welsh Government. Barely a weekly surgery goes by without an issue being brought to me which is the responsibility of the local council and I deal with it. I know that my Parliamentary colleagues in England and elsewhere do the same. Yet the Parliamentary process makes little concession to either the devolution settlement or the developed role of MPs as constituency advocates. Politicians at different levels of governance operate as if they were on different floors of an office block which governs: local government on the ground floor, in devolved jurisdictions, MSPs, AMs or MLAs on the second floor, MPs on the third floor and MEPs, at the moment, on the floor above them. The time is right, in appropriate cases, to put those representatives on the same floor to scrutinise together in the interests of our constituents. The EVEL proposals, suggesting the creation of a separate Parliamentary Committee on a geographical basis to deal with appropriate legislation gives an indication of how to achieve this.

For many years, I have advocated, as an MP from Wales, MPs and AMs working together on joint committees for the benefit of our constituents. The health issues set out above are examples of issues that need joint work to reflect the reality of NHS provision. There has been great resistance to this proposal. Some see it as undermining the principle of devolution. But devolution is not separatism: it is incumbent on those of us who want devolution to work to work together, not separately, to make it work in practice. We must leave separatism to the nationalists.

Parliament and the devolved legislatures need to, in their  procedures, recognise the role of devolved institutions by incorporating them into the scrutiny process. It must also recognise that this will mean MPs working in joint committees with MSPs, AMs and MLAs and with local government. Such committees must, of necessity, be constituted on a regional basis. Just as the Conservatives propose creating a Committee of MPs in England in its EVEL proposals, Labour should go one step further and propose the creation of committees of MPs on a regional basis within England to scrutinise matters relating to that region. In England, this will mean extending committee membership to local government leaders. In Wales and Scotland, this will mean Scottish Parliament and Assembly Committees admitting MPs and Parliamentary Committees admitting MSPs and AMs as well as, where appropriate, local government leaders. In the devolved jurisdictions administrative responsibility for the committees could rest with the devolved Parliaments.

In appropriate cases, such committees could even extend across national borders, so that a committee could deal with issues which transcend boundaries, reflecting the reality of the situation on the ground for my constituents in, for example, the cross-border region on the England/Wales border part of which I represent.

Such committees will more accurately reflect the present governance of the UK. Governance is a process which integrates different levels of government and these committees will do the same.

 

4. Devolution within Wales: the Next Steps

As further powers are transferred from Parliament to the National Assembly for Wales, or Welsh Parliament as it will become, calls have increased for an increase in the size of membership of the Welsh Parliament. But the public in Wales, or anywhere else, do not appear to want more politicians. There is, however, a need for both stronger structures for Government at all levels within Wales and for stronger scrutiny of the Welsh Government. Both could be achieved by the development of regional structures within Wales.

There is a massive concern in North Wales, a concern which has existed since the birth of the National Assembly in 1999, that the Assembly serves south-east Wales, and Cardiff in particular, very well, but has not delivered for distant areas of Wales.

Under a new First Minister, the Welsh Government has appointed a Minister for North Wales and that Minister will be accountable to a North Wales Regional Committee. Membership of the Committee should include not just AMs but MPs and representatives of local government in the area. All have their own democratic mandates and can contribute to more strategic policy development for North Wales. There is a very strong appetite in the area for such a body. I established the All Party Group for North Wales/Mersey/Dee in the UK Parliament in 2015 and it has been enthusiastically supported not just by politicians at all levels of Government but also by business, universities and other regional organisations. It set up a forum which led to the formal establishment of the North Wales Economic Ambition Board, now playing a crucial role in the delivery of a North Wales Growth Deal.

In this way, the need for more accountability is resolved without more politicians and a more cohesive, effective regional body is created within North Wales.

I have no doubt that this model can also be applied in other parts of Wales, as well as, if demanded, everywhere else in the United Kingdom. It could begin to address the complex patchwork of regional bodies which have emerged in a disparate, uncoordinated way in the last 5 years.

 

 

Devolution: The Thirst for Change

Recent political history shows us that there is a thirst for regional roles in UK politics. Following their initial steps on EVEL and the Northern Powerhouse, the Coalition and Conservative UK Government created Ministers with regional responsibilities. As well as the long-established Scotland Office, Wales Office and Northern Ireland Office, the Government has introduced a Minister for the Northern Powerhouse. The development of Regional Growth Deals has led to a succession of Ministers being given, formally in some cases, informally in others, regional responsibilities. Parliament, as well as the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly, should, equally, be operating on a regional basis, both to scrutinise the executive roles of regional Ministers and to act as a conduit between Government at a national and at a local level.

The success of the establishment of the All Party Group for the North Wales/Mersey/Dee region has convinced me that there is a demand for a place where the interests of a particular geographical region can be discussed, developed and advanced. It means that MPs, local government, business and other important institutions within that area can be part of a body which is not summoned on an ad hoc basis, but is permanent.

The concept of regional representation in Government is not new. As Prime Minister, Gordon Brown introduced Regional Ministers in England. Though abolished by the Coalition Government in 2010, they had provided a focus for local government to connect with central government. As a Business Minister in 2009-10, I dealt with Regional Ministers, especially in connection with economic development matters.

The Coalition UK Government created a Minister for the “Northern Powerhouse” and some other areas of England, as well as continuing with the established UK minsters for the nations of the UK. It is, by stealth, adopting the model which existed before 2010. Such Ministers, however, need to be accountable. It would make much more sense, rather than have some areas with geographical representation and some without, to have an ordered arrangement of regional Ministers, accountable to regional committees in the House of Commons with those committees formally linked to local government and other important regional bodies, including, in England, Local Enterprise Partnerships. Where appropriate, we should establish committees of elected representatives, MPs, AMs and Councillors who can hold the appropriate Ministers to account and drive forward the agenda to improve economic, transport and public service connections within their area. We need to create flexible political structures which respond to the reality of the lives of our constituents.

An ordered arrangement would also address a serious anomaly developing in the current Conservative devolution arrangements within England. At present, the development of elected Mayors focusses attention on city areas at the expense of towns and rural areas. My own experience is that it is necessary to have political structures in place linking towns in order to create the capacity for strategic transport and economic initiatives. Regional Committees of the House of Commons can offer such a structure, one without which progress for those areas is nigh on impossible. My own experience is that even the creation of a less formal All Party Group for a region in Parliament can bring local authorities, politicians at different levels of Government, business and other important local institutions together to achieve real progress. So much more could be achieved by the establishment of formal Regional Committees.

These Regional Committees can work with the UK Parliament and also the Parliaments and Assemblies of the nations in the UK.

The tragedy of so much of the constitutional reform since 1999 is that it has tinkered in a piecemeal way with our constitution, without considering impacts on our constitution as a whole. Though there is, in my view, an unanswerable case to establish a Convention addressing the UK Constitution as a whole, I believe the introduction of Regional Committees in the House of Commons, and in the devolved institutions, working with other regional bodies, can begin the process of addressing the huge political and economic imbalances which exist at present and are creating huge resentment in the nations and regions of the UK. The Government has suggested the establishment of a Regional Prosperity Fund following Brexit. Little detail of its role and structures exists. It could work with Regional Committees of the House of Commons as part of a long overdue shift towards the development of better structures to bring fair wealth distribution across the UK. Such an innovation is long overdue.

Ian Lucas MP - Regional Committees in the House of Commons: A Positive Response to Make Devolution Work across the United Kingdom

March 12, 2019

Devolution: England Theresa May’s Government is paralysed. Even on the central issue of Brexit, the Government she leads is incapable of presenting, let alone, delivering policy. The Regional Prosperity Fund is her model for delivering public investment across the UK after the UK leaves the EU. However, no detail has been presented of how the fund would work. This must be addressed urgently. Under the Coalition Government, the Conservatives seized the political initiative on devolution in the run up to the 2015 General Election. Their policies of  “English Votes for English Laws” and the “Northern Powerhouse” were direct responses to...

What does a modern, thriving and vibrant town look like? A question decision-makers have wrestled with time and again while they plough yet more investment into our cities.

Almost 60% per cent of the population live in towns, yet cities get disproportionately more investment. Our towns are suffering - and we’re sick and tired of playing second fiddle.

 

I belong to a group of Labour MPs, Councillors and others called Labour Towns and our mission is to find transformative solutions to reinvigorate our ailing and neglected towns.

I’m not saying we need to reinvent the wheel. We already have much to celebrate here in Batley and Spen and a wonderful, diverse population that could rival anywhere in the world for its friendliness and open nature.

We just need the means and backing to enable each and every town to craft its own identity and drive investment.

Our Labour Towns blueprint is working towards this.

We can start with the basics – each town should have a Post Office, a bank, a library, a modern leisure centre and be well-served by public transport as an absolute minimum.

And I believe culture and the arts has a significant role to play in this regenerative journey. We’ve seen the boost events such as the Cleckheaton Folk Festival, Batley Festival and the Great Get Together can give our businesses. This boost needn’t be a once a year special.

We can place the arts, culture, sport and heritage at the centre of what we do. That’s why I’m backing calls for the Government to set up a National Town of Culture award to run alongside the existing City of Culture award.

The collaborative approach to bids and the shortlisting process has done wonders for the cities that compete, and it’s time our towns had a piece of the action.

And there’s more. Over the past year I’ve done a lot of work to help local, independent businesses adapt to an increasingly cash-less society by enlisting a firm to give away free card-reading technology.

Such adaptations to changing consumer habits is vital in enabling businesses to compete in the digital age. But our high streets also need Government support.

Our independent businesses are being hit with massive hikes in rates while the likes of Amazon hand over just a fraction of its multi-billion turnover. Our outdated and manifestly unfair business rates system desperately needs revaluating to make it fit for purpose for the 21st century.

Public transport is also a big issue. Companies often cherry-pick the most profitable bus-routes, leaving many with no means to get to where they need to go. We need to improve our bus services so our communities can thrive, not cut them.

I know there’s much to do – but I know we have the skills, talent, creativity and ideas to rebuild and reinvigorate our communities.

We just need a Government willing to look beyond the cities

Tracy Brabin: We need a Government to look beyond the cities

February 12, 2019

What does a modern, thriving and vibrant town look like? A question decision-makers have wrestled with time and again while they plough yet more investment into our cities. Almost 60% per cent of the population live in towns, yet cities get disproportionately more investment. Our towns are suffering - and we’re sick and tired of playing second fiddle.

What does a modern, thriving and vibrant town look like? A question decision-makers have wrestled with time and again while they plough yet more investment into our cities.

Almost 60% per cent of the population live in towns, yet cities get disproportionately more investment. Our towns are suffering - and we’re sick and tired of playing second fiddle.

 

I belong to a group of Labour MPs, Councillors and others called Labour Towns and our mission is to find transformative solutions to reinvigorate our ailing and neglected towns.

I’m not saying we need to reinvent the wheel. We already have much to celebrate here in Batley and Spen and a wonderful, diverse population that could rival anywhere in the world for its friendliness and open nature.

We just need the means and backing to enable each and every town to craft its own identity and drive investment.

Our Labour Towns blueprint is working towards this.

We can start with the basics – each town should have a Post Office, a bank, a library, a modern leisure centre and be well-served by public transport as an absolute minimum.

And I believe culture and the arts has a significant role to play in this regenerative journey. We’ve seen the boost events such as the Cleckheaton Folk Festival, Batley Festival and the Great Get Together can give our businesses. This boost needn’t be a once a year special.

We can place the arts, culture, sport and heritage at the centre of what we do. That’s why I’m backing calls for the Government to set up a National Town of Culture award to run alongside the existing City of Culture award.

The collaborative approach to bids and the shortlisting process has done wonders for the cities that compete, and it’s time our towns had a piece of the action.

And there’s more. Over the past year I’ve done a lot of work to help local, independent businesses adapt to an increasingly cash-less society by enlisting a firm to give away free card-reading technology.

Such adaptations to changing consumer habits is vital in enabling businesses to compete in the digital age. But our high streets also need Government support.

Our independent businesses are being hit with massive hikes in rates while the likes of Amazon hand over just a fraction of its multi-billion turnover. Our outdated and manifestly unfair business rates system desperately needs revaluating to make it fit for purpose for the 21st century.

Public transport is also a big issue. Companies often cherry-pick the most profitable bus-routes, leaving many with no means to get to where they need to go. We need to improve our bus services so our communities can thrive, not cut them.

I know there’s much to do – but I know we have the skills, talent, creativity and ideas to rebuild and reinvigorate our communities.

We just need a Government willing to look beyond the cities

Tracy Brabin: We need a Government to look beyond the cities

February 12, 2019

What does a modern, thriving and vibrant town look like? A question decision-makers have wrestled with time and again while they plough yet more investment into our cities. Almost 60% per cent of the population live in towns, yet cities get disproportionately more investment. Our towns are suffering - and we’re sick and tired of playing second fiddle.

MP's choir festival fills streets of Wrexham with song

An all-day choir festival ensured the streets of a North Wales market town were filled with song.

 

The Wrexham Signing Streets event, organised by Ian Lucas MP in partnership with Wrexham Glyndŵr University, saw 27 choirs perform at six locations across the town centre on Saturday, September 29.

Now into its third year, Singing Streets was established with the aim of promoting Wrexham and bringing people together through music. It was free to attend and hundreds of members of the public streamed into the town to enjoy the performances, which included a mass ‘big sing’ at Queens Square where many of the choirs came together in one place.  

Mr Lucas said: “I’m tremendously proud of the success of Wrexham Singing Streets. This year’s event was our biggest and best yet – a wonderful showcase for Wrexham as a town and the talent we have here.

“The choirs were superb, and the public turned out in numbers to enjoy the performances. It brought a real vibrancy to the town centre and the hope is that a lot of the people who visited for the day will come back and help the town thrive."

The choirs in attendance were made up of singers of all ages and abilities. Many are based in Wrexham while others came from further afield. 

Mr Lucas and Wrexham Glyndŵr University organise Wrexham Singing Streets in collaboration with John Jones Quality Acoustics, Wrexham Community Choir volunteers, Gateway Church and Wrexham Business Group CIC. The event sponsors are Wockhardt, Wrexham Crime Link, Hays Travel and Gateway Church. 

Ian Lucas MP: Wrexhams singing streets 2018

October 16, 2018

MP's choir festival fills streets of Wrexham with song An all-day choir festival ensured the streets of a North Wales market town were filled with song.

MP's choir festival fills streets of Wrexham with song

An all-day choir festival ensured the streets of a North Wales market town were filled with song.

 

The Wrexham Signing Streets event, organised by Ian Lucas MP in partnership with Wrexham Glyndŵr University, saw 27 choirs perform at six locations across the town centre on Saturday, September 29.

Now into its third year, Singing Streets was established with the aim of promoting Wrexham and bringing people together through music. It was free to attend and hundreds of members of the public streamed into the town to enjoy the performances, which included a mass ‘big sing’ at Queens Square where many of the choirs came together in one place.  

Mr Lucas said: “I’m tremendously proud of the success of Wrexham Singing Streets. This year’s event was our biggest and best yet – a wonderful showcase for Wrexham as a town and the talent we have here.

“The choirs were superb, and the public turned out in numbers to enjoy the performances. It brought a real vibrancy to the town centre and the hope is that a lot of the people who visited for the day will come back and help the town thrive."

The choirs in attendance were made up of singers of all ages and abilities. Many are based in Wrexham while others came from further afield. 

Mr Lucas and Wrexham Glyndŵr University organise Wrexham Singing Streets in collaboration with John Jones Quality Acoustics, Wrexham Community Choir volunteers, Gateway Church and Wrexham Business Group CIC. The event sponsors are Wockhardt, Wrexham Crime Link, Hays Travel and Gateway Church. 

Ian Lucas MP: Wrexhams singing streets 2018

October 16, 2018

MP's choir festival fills streets of Wrexham with song An all-day choir festival ensured the streets of a North Wales market town were filled with song.

Geothermal energy is an exciting opportunity to rebuild industry in former mining towns. Abandoned coal mines are now filled with water that has been heated by the earth, and this can be extracted as a clean and green way to heat homes and businesses.

Geothermal Energy could fit beautifully within the UK energy mix alongside other renewables. Unlike wind and solar energy, Geothermal is not intermittent. No matter the weather on the surface, heat can always be pumped from the mine-water reservoirs. 

In Iceland, Geothermal Energy comes from volcanic activity and so the water is hot enough to produce steam – generating electricity when harnessed. In the UK, the water isn’t hot enough for steam, but it is well suited for use in heating systems. The water can be pumped up from a mine and send around a district heating system, warming homes and businesses before returning underground for re-use.

 

Across the UK, we have 23,000 former collieries. Many of these contain water suitable for geothermal energy projects. These sites are treated as a liability for the taxpayer, but there is scope to create a new industry worth £2.5bn a year in towns where jobs and investment are often most needed.

 

In Spennymoor, County Durham, researchers at Durham Energy Institute have done a feasibility study at a former colliery, and found that there is great potential for geothermal energy in this area. However, the resource is being lost. Many new housing developments are being built on former coalfield sites, including the one at Spennymoor. These sites have the potential to build in heating systems to utilise the heat under our feet, but developers have little incentive to do so. Fitting geothermal systems retrospectively may be more complex and costly than building them into new homes. The time to act is now. 

 

This summer, Labour MP Helen Goodman led a debate on Geothermal Energy. Speaking in Westminster Hall, she summarised: “we will pursue this, because it is important and it could be very productive for this country.”

Helen Goodman MP: Geothermal energy is an exciting opportunity to rebuild industry in former mining towns

October 16, 2018

Geothermal energy is an exciting opportunity to rebuild industry in former mining towns. Abandoned coal mines are now filled with water that has been heated by the earth, and this can be extracted as a clean and green way to heat homes and businesses. Geothermal Energy could fit beautifully within the UK energy mix alongside other renewables. Unlike wind and solar energy, Geothermal is not intermittent. No matter the weather on the surface, heat can always be pumped from the mine-water reservoirs. 

Geothermal energy is an exciting opportunity to rebuild industry in former mining towns. Abandoned coal mines are now filled with water that has been heated by the earth, and this can be extracted as a clean and green way to heat homes and businesses.

Geothermal Energy could fit beautifully within the UK energy mix alongside other renewables. Unlike wind and solar energy, Geothermal is not intermittent. No matter the weather on the surface, heat can always be pumped from the mine-water reservoirs. 

In Iceland, Geothermal Energy comes from volcanic activity and so the water is hot enough to produce steam – generating electricity when harnessed. In the UK, the water isn’t hot enough for steam, but it is well suited for use in heating systems. The water can be pumped up from a mine and send around a district heating system, warming homes and businesses before returning underground for re-use.

 

Across the UK, we have 23,000 former collieries. Many of these contain water suitable for geothermal energy projects. These sites are treated as a liability for the taxpayer, but there is scope to create a new industry worth £2.5bn a year in towns where jobs and investment are often most needed.

 

In Spennymoor, County Durham, researchers at Durham Energy Institute have done a feasibility study at a former colliery, and found that there is great potential for geothermal energy in this area. However, the resource is being lost. Many new housing developments are being built on former coalfield sites, including the one at Spennymoor. These sites have the potential to build in heating systems to utilise the heat under our feet, but developers have little incentive to do so. Fitting geothermal systems retrospectively may be more complex and costly than building them into new homes. The time to act is now. 

 

This summer, Labour MP Helen Goodman led a debate on Geothermal Energy. Speaking in Westminster Hall, she summarised: “we will pursue this, because it is important and it could be very productive for this country.”

Helen Goodman MP: Geothermal energy is an exciting opportunity to rebuild industry in former mining towns

October 16, 2018

Geothermal energy is an exciting opportunity to rebuild industry in former mining towns. Abandoned coal mines are now filled with water that has been heated by the earth, and this can be extracted as a clean and green way to heat homes and businesses. Geothermal Energy could fit beautifully within the UK energy mix alongside other renewables. Unlike wind and solar energy, Geothermal is not intermittent. No matter the weather on the surface, heat can always be pumped from the mine-water reservoirs. 

 

 

Founded in 2016 by Ian Lucas MP, the Wrexham Singing Streets choir festival fills the town's streets with song. 

It brings together choirs from all over the region and is free to attend.

The idea is to get the choirs and public to enjoy the vibrancy and atmosphere of the town centre, and Mr Lucas - Labour MP for Wrexham - has promised that the 2018 festival, on Saturday, September 29, will be the biggest and best yet. 

This film of the 2017 Singing Streets event was made by North Wales-based Made Television, in association with Wrexham's 73 Degree Films and Glyndŵr University. 

For information about the Wrexham Singing Streets festival call 01978 355743 or email ian.lucas.mp@parliament.uk.

Ian Lucas MP: Wrexhams singing streets

September 28, 2018

    Founded in 2016 by Ian Lucas MP, the Wrexham Singing Streets choir festival fills the town's streets with song.  It brings together choirs from all over the region and is free to attend. The idea is to get the choirs and public to enjoy the vibrancy and atmosphere of the town centre, and Mr Lucas - Labour MP for Wrexham - has promised that the 2018 festival, on Saturday, September 29, will be the biggest and best yet.  This film of the 2017 Singing Streets event was made by North Wales-based Made Television, in association with Wrexham's 73...

 

 

Founded in 2016 by Ian Lucas MP, the Wrexham Singing Streets choir festival fills the town's streets with song. 

It brings together choirs from all over the region and is free to attend.

The idea is to get the choirs and public to enjoy the vibrancy and atmosphere of the town centre, and Mr Lucas - Labour MP for Wrexham - has promised that the 2018 festival, on Saturday, September 29, will be the biggest and best yet. 

This film of the 2017 Singing Streets event was made by North Wales-based Made Television, in association with Wrexham's 73 Degree Films and Glyndŵr University. 

For information about the Wrexham Singing Streets festival call 01978 355743 or email ian.lucas.mp@parliament.uk.

Ian Lucas MP: Wrexhams singing streets

September 28, 2018

    Founded in 2016 by Ian Lucas MP, the Wrexham Singing Streets choir festival fills the town's streets with song.  It brings together choirs from all over the region and is free to attend. The idea is to get the choirs and public to enjoy the vibrancy and atmosphere of the town centre, and Mr Lucas - Labour MP for Wrexham - has promised that the 2018 festival, on Saturday, September 29, will be the biggest and best yet.  This film of the 2017 Singing Streets event was made by North Wales-based Made Television, in association with Wrexham's 73...

Grimsby was made great by the fishing industry, but it's decline and the rise of insecure work has left 40% if its residents not earning enough to live on. Melanie Onn MP for Great Grimsby explains how town deals will help places like Grimsby become prosperous again.

Melanie Onn MP - Standing up for Grimsby

September 27, 2018

Grimsby was made great by the fishing industry, but it's decline and the rise of insecure work has left 40% if its residents not earning enough to live on. Melanie Onn MP for Great Grimsby explains how town deals will help places like Grimsby become prosperous again.

Grimsby was made great by the fishing industry, but it's decline and the rise of insecure work has left 40% if its residents not earning enough to live on. Melanie Onn MP for Great Grimsby explains how town deals will help places like Grimsby become prosperous again.

Melanie Onn MP - Standing up for Grimsby

September 27, 2018

Grimsby was made great by the fishing industry, but it's decline and the rise of insecure work has left 40% if its residents not earning enough to live on. Melanie Onn MP for Great Grimsby explains how town deals will help places like Grimsby become prosperous again.

 

Most people in the UK live in towns. Most political attention has, however, focussed on cities in recent years. Governments have looked to develop our regions through “City Challenge” schemes, some of which are not open to towns, and political development of regional mayoralties has often excluded consideration of the importance role of towns.

Now, through organisations such as the Centre for Towns and Labour Towns, there is a welcome, developing appreciation of the importance of towns to our communities and our economies up and down the country. The continuing challenges for town centres in a transforming retail environment has brought the issue into sharp focus and different examples of good practice across the UK are helping to begin to address the central issue of what, in the UK today, is the role of our towns and how can we ensure that they prosper?

The Tory Government likes to see itself as representing market towns, small businesses and local communities. The reality, however, is that its policies are shifting wealth, opportunity and services away from towns to cities.

Let me give examples.

The Tories have relentlessly pursued a policy of court closure in recent years. Towns have borne the brunt of the closures. The result is that towns have their role diminished as a centre of civic life, as local people are required to travel to cities to attend court, as witnesses, magistrates and staff, as well as defendants. The closures make it less attractive for smaller legal businesses to provide local services for townspeople and lessen private investment in businesses. The overall result is that there are fewer reasons to travel into our towns, leading to a reduction in town centre spend adding to the difficulties that face our retail sector.

The Tories are also withdrawing good, public sector jobs from our towns. I represent Wrexham, the largest town in North Wales. In recent years, the Tories have closed tax offices across North Wales and, now, in an extraordinary move, are shifting all HMRC jobs in Wrexham to Liverpool and Cardiff city centres, meaning that almost 400 long-term, skilled jobs are being moved away from Wrexham. Again, the status and importance of our towns are diminished by such moves and the spending power in town economies is reduced.

In the context of worsening transport connections, this encourages people to move from towns into cities and we see increasing evidence of younger people leaving towns because opportunities for them are increasingly concentrated in cities.

Unfortunately, other public sector organisations find it difficult to look beyond city centres. The BBC did make the historic and important move to Salford but local BBC radio services in towns are under continual pressure, despite their hugely respected status and local, commercial radio has almost disappeared from outside our largest cities. When Channel 4 looked to relocate its headquarters outside London recently, it restricted its considerations to cities only, notwithstanding the talent that exists in the media sector away from city centres. Chester and Wrexham made a strong bid and were not even given the opportunity to present to Channel 4.

In a world where improving digital connectivity is making information exchange possible for towns in a way that has never existed before, given the right levels of investment in infrastructure, the Tory Government is effectively withdrawing many public services from towns, taking good local jobs with them. This is a failure of imagination by the Tories and is not replicated by many private sector businesses.

In Wrexham, Virgin Media are building a new, digital network without any public, financial support and international businesses such as financial services company DTCC and locally born Moneypenny, offering digital reception services, are investing in the town with high quality private sector jobs.

They tell me that quality of life issues are important to their staff and the appeal of many towns is that they can offer more than our cities in this regard. Towns must be much more assertive in making this case and the Tory Government needs to wake up to the importance of representing all of our country – cities, towns and countryside – in our public sphere. It is wrong to withdraw public services from our towns. Government is an important part of the solution to the challenges our towns face.

Ian Lucas MP: The Conservative government is taking wealth, opportunity and services away from towns like Wrexham

August 24, 2018

  Most people in the UK live in towns. Most political attention has, however, focussed on cities in recent years. Governments have looked to develop our regions through “City Challenge” schemes, some of which are not open to towns, and political development of regional mayoralties has often excluded consideration of the importance role of towns. Now, through organisations such as the Centre for Towns and Labour Towns, there is a welcome, developing appreciation of the importance of towns to our communities and our economies up and down the country. The continuing challenges for town centres in a transforming retail environment...

 

Most people in the UK live in towns. Most political attention has, however, focussed on cities in recent years. Governments have looked to develop our regions through “City Challenge” schemes, some of which are not open to towns, and political development of regional mayoralties has often excluded consideration of the importance role of towns.

Now, through organisations such as the Centre for Towns and Labour Towns, there is a welcome, developing appreciation of the importance of towns to our communities and our economies up and down the country. The continuing challenges for town centres in a transforming retail environment has brought the issue into sharp focus and different examples of good practice across the UK are helping to begin to address the central issue of what, in the UK today, is the role of our towns and how can we ensure that they prosper?

The Tory Government likes to see itself as representing market towns, small businesses and local communities. The reality, however, is that its policies are shifting wealth, opportunity and services away from towns to cities.

Let me give examples.

The Tories have relentlessly pursued a policy of court closure in recent years. Towns have borne the brunt of the closures. The result is that towns have their role diminished as a centre of civic life, as local people are required to travel to cities to attend court, as witnesses, magistrates and staff, as well as defendants. The closures make it less attractive for smaller legal businesses to provide local services for townspeople and lessen private investment in businesses. The overall result is that there are fewer reasons to travel into our towns, leading to a reduction in town centre spend adding to the difficulties that face our retail sector.

The Tories are also withdrawing good, public sector jobs from our towns. I represent Wrexham, the largest town in North Wales. In recent years, the Tories have closed tax offices across North Wales and, now, in an extraordinary move, are shifting all HMRC jobs in Wrexham to Liverpool and Cardiff city centres, meaning that almost 400 long-term, skilled jobs are being moved away from Wrexham. Again, the status and importance of our towns are diminished by such moves and the spending power in town economies is reduced.

In the context of worsening transport connections, this encourages people to move from towns into cities and we see increasing evidence of younger people leaving towns because opportunities for them are increasingly concentrated in cities.

Unfortunately, other public sector organisations find it difficult to look beyond city centres. The BBC did make the historic and important move to Salford but local BBC radio services in towns are under continual pressure, despite their hugely respected status and local, commercial radio has almost disappeared from outside our largest cities. When Channel 4 looked to relocate its headquarters outside London recently, it restricted its considerations to cities only, notwithstanding the talent that exists in the media sector away from city centres. Chester and Wrexham made a strong bid and were not even given the opportunity to present to Channel 4.

In a world where improving digital connectivity is making information exchange possible for towns in a way that has never existed before, given the right levels of investment in infrastructure, the Tory Government is effectively withdrawing many public services from towns, taking good local jobs with them. This is a failure of imagination by the Tories and is not replicated by many private sector businesses.

In Wrexham, Virgin Media are building a new, digital network without any public, financial support and international businesses such as financial services company DTCC and locally born Moneypenny, offering digital reception services, are investing in the town with high quality private sector jobs.

They tell me that quality of life issues are important to their staff and the appeal of many towns is that they can offer more than our cities in this regard. Towns must be much more assertive in making this case and the Tory Government needs to wake up to the importance of representing all of our country – cities, towns and countryside – in our public sphere. It is wrong to withdraw public services from our towns. Government is an important part of the solution to the challenges our towns face.

Ian Lucas MP: The Conservative government is taking wealth, opportunity and services away from towns like Wrexham

August 24, 2018

  Most people in the UK live in towns. Most political attention has, however, focussed on cities in recent years. Governments have looked to develop our regions through “City Challenge” schemes, some of which are not open to towns, and political development of regional mayoralties has often excluded consideration of the importance role of towns. Now, through organisations such as the Centre for Towns and Labour Towns, there is a welcome, developing appreciation of the importance of towns to our communities and our economies up and down the country. The continuing challenges for town centres in a transforming retail environment...

As a young actor, in castings, I’d often be asked where I was from.

When I’d reply – Batley - more often than not the director would reply, ‘Batley Variety Club! That’s where all the big stars went in the 60’s!’

And it made me feel great.

International superstars such as Eartha Kitt, Louis Armstrong and Shirley Bassey brought showbiz sparkle to my working class community and it made me proud, giving me a self-confidence that maybe it was ok to dream big and want to be an actor. 

I’m now an MP and Batley Variety Club is a gym. Northern towns like the ones I represent have faced a number of changes over the years. Industries closing, like wool and coal mining quickly come to mind.

But I believe that the loss of that delicious showbiz sparkle can also have a lasting impact on a community. We need that spark back, and our 2017 manifesto made great strides in this area, particularly with our commitment to upgrade cultural infrastructure and putting our world-class creative sector at the heart of our future industrial strategy.

Now I want to think about making sure culture flows out from the cities, where it is too often held, and into our towns. That’s why with Labour Towns I’m leading an investigations on how culture can bring regeneration as a force for good.

There are so many examples it’s hard to know where to look first Hull and its new status as City of Culture. Piece Hall making Halifax a go-to destination for tourists from home and abroad. Media City, putting Salford on the TV and Film production map.

But I want to get a bit deeper, behind the curtain to use an old showbiz phrase.

As a first step, I invited a handful of creative organisations working in towns to Parliament.

We heard from Creative Scene in my constituency and their amazing site-specific dance projects, installations and festivals.

Between 2013 – 16, the organisation had an astonishing 1.45m attendances at over 3,000 events – 91% of whom classified themselves as ‘not usually taking part in the arts’. We also heard from Creative Black Country and their outdoor theatre and night-time adventures, The Cultural Spring in Sunderland offering bite-sized theatre, Made in Corby and their 43,000 engagements in the arts and Heart of Glass from Merseyside who bring community right into the heart of the making of art.

These are projects that emboldened local people to own their own culture, curate and commission it for their communities, bringing new skills and job opportunities along the way.

MP’s such as Holly Lynch, Helen Goodman and David Hanson also celebrated the impact creativity and culture had on the regeneration of their towns – the Piece Hall in Halifax, the castle in Bishops Auckland and Digital Towns in Delyn.

With so much good work going on, it’s easy to wonder if there’s a problem at all. However, in Batley and Spen there are a staggering 8,572 children living in poverty. So there’s a gap we need to close.

And let’s not forget, the creative industries is the fastest growing sector in the economy and many towns could benefit from a jobs injection.

Britain is a world leader, but the truth is that there are opportunities out there that children in my constituency don’t even know about.

So let’s break those barriers down, creativity is for all and if towns are to be the best they can be, it’ll be hand in hand with culture.

And now we need your help - What festival brought your community together, or is there a great local theatre is drawing in the crowds?

What innovative poetry group is rocking out the rhymes and how do you think culture can regenerate and reinvigorate towns?

You can submit blog posts, videos from your community or local councillors and artists telling us how it is to be creative in your community.

Send videos and blogs to Labour towns by leaving your details here: 

Tracy Brabin MP: Making Sure Culture Flows Out From the Cities and Into Our Towns

August 21, 2018

As a young actor, in castings, I’d often be asked where I was from. When I’d reply – Batley - more often than not the director would reply, ‘Batley Variety Club! That’s where all the big stars went in the 60’s!’ And it made me feel great.

As a young actor, in castings, I’d often be asked where I was from.

When I’d reply – Batley - more often than not the director would reply, ‘Batley Variety Club! That’s where all the big stars went in the 60’s!’

And it made me feel great.

International superstars such as Eartha Kitt, Louis Armstrong and Shirley Bassey brought showbiz sparkle to my working class community and it made me proud, giving me a self-confidence that maybe it was ok to dream big and want to be an actor. 

I’m now an MP and Batley Variety Club is a gym. Northern towns like the ones I represent have faced a number of changes over the years. Industries closing, like wool and coal mining quickly come to mind.

But I believe that the loss of that delicious showbiz sparkle can also have a lasting impact on a community. We need that spark back, and our 2017 manifesto made great strides in this area, particularly with our commitment to upgrade cultural infrastructure and putting our world-class creative sector at the heart of our future industrial strategy.

Now I want to think about making sure culture flows out from the cities, where it is too often held, and into our towns. That’s why with Labour Towns I’m leading an investigations on how culture can bring regeneration as a force for good.

There are so many examples it’s hard to know where to look first Hull and its new status as City of Culture. Piece Hall making Halifax a go-to destination for tourists from home and abroad. Media City, putting Salford on the TV and Film production map.

But I want to get a bit deeper, behind the curtain to use an old showbiz phrase.

As a first step, I invited a handful of creative organisations working in towns to Parliament.

We heard from Creative Scene in my constituency and their amazing site-specific dance projects, installations and festivals.

Between 2013 – 16, the organisation had an astonishing 1.45m attendances at over 3,000 events – 91% of whom classified themselves as ‘not usually taking part in the arts’. We also heard from Creative Black Country and their outdoor theatre and night-time adventures, The Cultural Spring in Sunderland offering bite-sized theatre, Made in Corby and their 43,000 engagements in the arts and Heart of Glass from Merseyside who bring community right into the heart of the making of art.

These are projects that emboldened local people to own their own culture, curate and commission it for their communities, bringing new skills and job opportunities along the way.

MP’s such as Holly Lynch, Helen Goodman and David Hanson also celebrated the impact creativity and culture had on the regeneration of their towns – the Piece Hall in Halifax, the castle in Bishops Auckland and Digital Towns in Delyn.

With so much good work going on, it’s easy to wonder if there’s a problem at all. However, in Batley and Spen there are a staggering 8,572 children living in poverty. So there’s a gap we need to close.

And let’s not forget, the creative industries is the fastest growing sector in the economy and many towns could benefit from a jobs injection.

Britain is a world leader, but the truth is that there are opportunities out there that children in my constituency don’t even know about.

So let’s break those barriers down, creativity is for all and if towns are to be the best they can be, it’ll be hand in hand with culture.

And now we need your help - What festival brought your community together, or is there a great local theatre is drawing in the crowds?

What innovative poetry group is rocking out the rhymes and how do you think culture can regenerate and reinvigorate towns?

You can submit blog posts, videos from your community or local councillors and artists telling us how it is to be creative in your community.

Send videos and blogs to Labour towns by leaving your details here: 

Tracy Brabin MP: Making Sure Culture Flows Out From the Cities and Into Our Towns

August 21, 2018

As a young actor, in castings, I’d often be asked where I was from. When I’d reply – Batley - more often than not the director would reply, ‘Batley Variety Club! That’s where all the big stars went in the 60’s!’ And it made me feel great.

 

For centuries markets have been the lifeblood of towns. Traders hawk their wares. People gather, moving from stall to stall, enjoying the hustle and bustle of a lively commercial community. Scunthorpe’s Market has been in its current location for as long as people can remember. When I walked round today there were thriving businesses who told me they’ve traded for decades, sometimes generations in this market that supports our whole area. It employs around 200 people.

 

Back in the Autumn Conservative North Lincolnshire Council said they wanted the Market gone from its current site so they can grab a capital receipt by selling it off. Typical Tories, knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing. Traders and customers came together in a show of community anger and strength. Very quickly over 20,000 local people had signed a Save Scunthorpe Market petition. This showed real, palpable community commitment to our area’s culture and heritage. It should have made the Conservative Council think again.

But they are clever and cunning, not to be underestimated. Before long their tune had changed. They started talking about moving the Market elsewhere. Without involving the traders they identified the now empty ex-BHS premises as the place they would move the market to. As one trader said to me ‘If it is such a successful location why do shops keep closing there?’ Fair point. But not one that a Conservative Council who knows far more about running businesses than the successful entrepreneurs that have run market stalls for generations will pause to consider! And many a trader has pointed out to me the Conservative Council Leader’s track record of personal failed business enterprises does not give them any confidence in him!

So the Council has cracked on with its Project. A project that it has involved no-one else in. It even announced a name change for the new market plucking ‘St John’ out the air. They know best. This has been clear in the one-to-one meetings they’ve had with traders in an attempt to divide and rule. These were promised as opportunities to explore how to make the New Market Project work. Traders went along in good faith but came out of meetings with a sense that they were being given a take it or leave it option. Rents more than doubling for many businesses with no clarity given about future rates. And for significantly smaller units with much less storage and warehousing. No help with moving from one location to another. And if you want a downstairs unit you need to trade 5 days a week. So people, like the second hand book stall, that currently trades for 2 days a week will need to try 5 if the elderly, less mobile customers that it relies on are to have easy access to the stall. And businesses like the butchers, the pet shop, the carpet shop, the greengrocers that currently open 6 days a week will only be able to open 5. The Council immediately cutting their income by the equivalent of 6 weeks’ trade a year. Outrageous! Can you imagine the uproar if this was done to any other business?

So what’s happens now? There’s real anger amongst customers and traders. But resignation too. How can they hold on to what they see as dear when a bully boy Council pushes them about?   Its PR machine showing off an empty but sweet smelling store in the new location. ‘Think about the opportunity’, the Council purrs.

The traders are considering their business options. The closure of Scunthorpe Market against the clear will of local people means they are facing a significant interruption to their businesses. Some are finding that it will be cheaper and more effective to move their business to elsewhere on the High Street. Some are going on line. Some are deciding to pack up and, if they can, retire. Others are hoping and praying that the New Market will work. But they know as we all know that markets, like towns, are communities that work together. And if the anchor stalls don’t transfer to the New Market that is no longer Scunthorpe Market with its long history of success but, bizarrely named, St John’s Market with no link to the area and no history they are wondering what chance they have for the future.

 

 

Nic Dakin MP: People need Towns and Towns need Markets:

August 16, 2018

  For centuries markets have been the lifeblood of towns. Traders hawk their wares. People gather, moving from stall to stall, enjoying the hustle and bustle of a lively commercial community. Scunthorpe’s Market has been in its current location for as long as people can remember. When I walked round today there were thriving businesses who told me they’ve traded for decades, sometimes generations in this market that supports our whole area. It employs around 200 people.

 

For centuries markets have been the lifeblood of towns. Traders hawk their wares. People gather, moving from stall to stall, enjoying the hustle and bustle of a lively commercial community. Scunthorpe’s Market has been in its current location for as long as people can remember. When I walked round today there were thriving businesses who told me they’ve traded for decades, sometimes generations in this market that supports our whole area. It employs around 200 people.

 

Back in the Autumn Conservative North Lincolnshire Council said they wanted the Market gone from its current site so they can grab a capital receipt by selling it off. Typical Tories, knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing. Traders and customers came together in a show of community anger and strength. Very quickly over 20,000 local people had signed a Save Scunthorpe Market petition. This showed real, palpable community commitment to our area’s culture and heritage. It should have made the Conservative Council think again.

But they are clever and cunning, not to be underestimated. Before long their tune had changed. They started talking about moving the Market elsewhere. Without involving the traders they identified the now empty ex-BHS premises as the place they would move the market to. As one trader said to me ‘If it is such a successful location why do shops keep closing there?’ Fair point. But not one that a Conservative Council who knows far more about running businesses than the successful entrepreneurs that have run market stalls for generations will pause to consider! And many a trader has pointed out to me the Conservative Council Leader’s track record of personal failed business enterprises does not give them any confidence in him!

So the Council has cracked on with its Project. A project that it has involved no-one else in. It even announced a name change for the new market plucking ‘St John’ out the air. They know best. This has been clear in the one-to-one meetings they’ve had with traders in an attempt to divide and rule. These were promised as opportunities to explore how to make the New Market Project work. Traders went along in good faith but came out of meetings with a sense that they were being given a take it or leave it option. Rents more than doubling for many businesses with no clarity given about future rates. And for significantly smaller units with much less storage and warehousing. No help with moving from one location to another. And if you want a downstairs unit you need to trade 5 days a week. So people, like the second hand book stall, that currently trades for 2 days a week will need to try 5 if the elderly, less mobile customers that it relies on are to have easy access to the stall. And businesses like the butchers, the pet shop, the carpet shop, the greengrocers that currently open 6 days a week will only be able to open 5. The Council immediately cutting their income by the equivalent of 6 weeks’ trade a year. Outrageous! Can you imagine the uproar if this was done to any other business?

So what’s happens now? There’s real anger amongst customers and traders. But resignation too. How can they hold on to what they see as dear when a bully boy Council pushes them about?   Its PR machine showing off an empty but sweet smelling store in the new location. ‘Think about the opportunity’, the Council purrs.

The traders are considering their business options. The closure of Scunthorpe Market against the clear will of local people means they are facing a significant interruption to their businesses. Some are finding that it will be cheaper and more effective to move their business to elsewhere on the High Street. Some are going on line. Some are deciding to pack up and, if they can, retire. Others are hoping and praying that the New Market will work. But they know as we all know that markets, like towns, are communities that work together. And if the anchor stalls don’t transfer to the New Market that is no longer Scunthorpe Market with its long history of success but, bizarrely named, St John’s Market with no link to the area and no history they are wondering what chance they have for the future.

 

 

Nic Dakin MP: People need Towns and Towns need Markets:

August 16, 2018

  For centuries markets have been the lifeblood of towns. Traders hawk their wares. People gather, moving from stall to stall, enjoying the hustle and bustle of a lively commercial community. Scunthorpe’s Market has been in its current location for as long as people can remember. When I walked round today there were thriving businesses who told me they’ve traded for decades, sometimes generations in this market that supports our whole area. It employs around 200 people.