From  the Financial Times 13.09.19

Boris Johnson to hand powers over railway budgets and timetables to metro mayors

Jim Pickard in London, Andy Bounds in Southport and Chris Tighe in Newcastle

Elected mayors in the north of England are to be given London-style powers over their railway budgets and timetables in a step forward for devolution, Boris Johnson will announce on Friday.Metro mayors will also take control of tracks, trains and stations so they can run an integrated network, like London Overground and Merseyrail in Liverpool.

Mayors such as Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester have long demanded the change in how the railways in their areas are managed. He will create GM Rail to connect better with the bus and tram network in the city. The move comes as details of a government-ordered review of Britain’s railways by Keith Williams, former British Airways chief executive, are due to be published in the coming weeks. Mr Williams has already said the current franchise system has “had its day” and greater priority must be given to passenger needs. Last month, the government sent its strongest signal that it intends to overhaul the country’s rail franchising system after it scrapped the competition to run services between London and parts of south-east England. Instead, the Department for Transport extended the direct award contract of the incumbent, Southeastern, until April next year.

Last month political leaders in the north of England demanded a “Northern Budget”, including £7bn of transport infrastructure. They are also lobbying for £39bn to build the full Northern Powerhouse Rail east-west network by 2040.London and Liverpool services have improved since control was handed over. The local authorities set fares and timetables, and grant decades-long concessions to a single operator.The North of Tyne — which includes Newcastle — Tees Valley and the Sheffield City region are the other areas of the north with elected mayors.Mr Johnson’s railway announcement is to be made in a speech in Rotherham that is expected to include details of other devolution schemes. The prime minister will unveil a “Northern Powerhouse growth body” to stimulate the region’s economy, Downing Street said.

However, it is not clear how this will sit with existing organisations, such as Transport for the North and NP11 — which represents the North’s 11 local enterprise partnerships.Five years ago George Osborne, the then chancellor, created the Northern Powerhouse concept. In 2016 he instigated the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, which provides a voice for business and civic leaders. Mr Johnson is a former mayor of London who says he understands the need to give mayors more power. The prime minister is also expected to unveil further devolved powers for the North of Tyne, Tees Valley and Liverpool combined authority areas, bringing them more into line with Manchester.

Charlie Cornish

Charlie Cornish: The UK needs an integrated transport plan to reunite the country

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