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A better deal for buses

October 24, 2014

Here in the North East buses are the backbone of our public transport network – on average every person in the region makes around 77 bus journeys every year, much higher than in many other parts of the country.

But, passenger numbers are actually in long-term decline – down by 13% since 2001 according to the 2011 Census. At the same time road congestion is getting worse as more and more of us are forced to switch from the bus to our cars. Something has to change if this trend is to be reversed – beating the traffic jams and making our bus services sustainable for the future.

That is why the proposal put forward by the North East Combined Authority earlier this week to shake up the way bus services in the region operate is so important.

The move towards introducing a Quality Contract Scheme for bus services in the North East may sound like technical mumbo jumbo – but it will mean a fundamental change which could bring huge benefits for bus users and help us to create a coordinated bus network across the region – just like the way that Transport for London run the buses in the capital.

We are the first region in the country to go down this route, and others are watching us with interest. The new arrangements will take time to establish, and there are still some legal barriers to overcome. The proposal will now be considered by an independent Quality Contracts Board who will decide whether the proposals are in the public interest. The new arrangements could be in place by 2017.

Back in the 1980’s all bus services across the country, except London, were ‘deregulated’ allowing bus operators a free market to operate services which were commercially viable to them. Council’s then had to complete the network by funding those less profitable routes that the bus companies could not operate commercially.

Over time this led to a fragmentation of the bus network as different companies competed for the most valuable bus routes whilst councils’ picked up the bill for the rest. For the passenger – working out information about bus times, ticket prices and routes required them to negotiate a confusing array of different information.

And, as council budgets have come under pressure, so has our ability to subsidise less profitable bus routes – putting at risk vital services which may have few passengers but which provide an essential lifeline for otherwise isolated communities.

A relatively small number of bus companies now control the bus networks across the country. Many have generated enormous profits since deregulation – but plainly they have not been able to sustain a network which meets the needs of its customers. There can be very few business sectors where profits continue to rise whilst customer numbers fall away so significantly. Something isn’t working.

Perhaps it is not surprising that the only place that bus passenger numbers have increased in recent years is in London – which escaped deregulation with Transport for London continuing to commission and coordinate the network. If this system is good enough for London it should be good enough for the North East.

Under the Quality Contract Scheme it will be the North East Combined Authority which decides which bus routes companies will be asked to operate – not market forces. And rather than letting the market decide the price – operators would provide services on a range of routes to a contractually agreed price.

This would lead to a range of benefits for passengers.

Bus contracts would be for the whole service – not just the most profitable routes. This will put the responsibility for sustaining less profitable routes back to the bus companies within the agreed contract price. In effect, some of the profits from the more popular routes would be used to support the whole network – including school buses and services to more isolated communities.

The bus network would be better coordinated across the region – on the basis of what bus users need rather than competition for profit. This would help make it easier to produce clear simple information about the bus network and the timetable across the whole region – available from a single source making it much more straightforward to find the bus you want when you need it.

Our new approach would be clear about the quality of buses to be provided and service standards that passengers should expect. On average buses would be no more than seven year old and there would be a clear expectation that the bus fleet should be clean and green – helping to reduce carbon emissions.

We now have an opportunity to plan routes more strategically, working closely with businesses to identify their future needs – and identify how more people can get to work on the bus, without the need for more cars on the road.

Ticket prices, along with concessionary schemes for older and younger people, would be consistent across the whole bus network making it much easier to work out how much a journey will cost. Average price rises will be capped at the level of inflation – making bus fares more affordable – and more attractive when compared to using the car. Concessions will include a flat fare for 16-19 year olds – meaning that families will no longer have to make difficult decisions about where a child should work or study on the basis of how much it costs to get there.

Joining-up the system in this way will also make it much more straightforward to introduce smarter ticketing systems – like the oyster cards used in London. These would work across buses and on the Metro system.

It was interesting that bus passenger groups turned out in force for the Combined Authority meeting to voice their support for the Quality Contract Scheme. People who are passionate about their bus services understand that it provides the right way forward.

The bus companies will be disappointed. The Quality Contract Scheme will have an impact on their profits. We have given careful consideration to their alternative proposals, but felt that they could simply not deliver our ambitions for better bus services. We were also clear that, without action, bus use would continue to decline, and the pressures on public funding would simply become unsustainable.

Why I’m coming round to rugby…

October 7, 2014

I must admit I didn’t used to be a big rugby fan. In fact two years ago one of my colleagues only half-jokingly told me it was the game played with the pointy ball, but even I’m genuinely excited about the Rugby World Cup coming to Newcastle next October.

Last Friday I spent most of the day taking part in a series of events to mark the final countdown to the start of the tournament.

Apart from meeting World Cup winner and Freeman of the City Jonny Wilkinson, I also got a taste of the wide appeal the sport has when I walked into Newcastle Racecourse. Jonny Wilkinson interviews Leader of Newcastle City Council, Councillor Nick Forbes at RWC2015

The Rugby World Cup road show was in town – and so was the media – not just to see Jonny or the Webb Ellis Cup but the ordinary men and women who were being trained up to be event volunteers. These are people who will welcome visitors to the city, give out advice and useful information and be the human face of a massive logistical exercise.

After the usual round of interviews I visited Leazes Park to watch a group of U13s taking part in a rugby tournament to demonstrate the importance of legacy that such a prestigious event brings to Newcastle. It occurred to me that this is a truly magnificent occasion for many reasons; here are just six:

  • Rugby is a sport with worldwide appeal, and the eyes of the world will be upon Newcastle when St James’ Park hosts its three fixtures starting with Scotland v South Africa on October 3 – how else could we achieve such a global audience?
  • The tournament will attract hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city from other parts of the country such as Scotland and overseas including South Africa, Samoa, Tonga and New Zealand. Many will be first time visitors and a good number will come back again as tourists and will take away fond memories of their time here
  • Shops, restaurants, bars and other attractions will get a massive economic boost as experts predict at least £14m spent in the region’s economy in just a few days
  • The sponsorship and media build up to the tournament will inspire people to take up rugby and other forms of sport creating new health and wellbeing opportunities for those who may otherwise have remained inactive
  • Up to 300 local people will be trained and supported in their personal development to give a warm Geordie welcome to the city, and play a key part in the success of the games
  • But above all the Rugby World Cup will make Newcastle and the region feel good about itself in the same way that the Olympics made us all feel proud about what we can achieve when we all work together for the common good. Such feelings can’t be quantified or measured but they lift our spirits and inspire us to do things that we would not normally even consider. That’s the big difference that big sporting occasions bring – confidence in ourselves.

So although there’s no doubt that Newcastle is a footballing city, next year – for a few days at least – rugby will become our number one passion. I for one can’t wait. Bring it on!

Now is the time to devolve powers to cities

September 22, 2014

The people of Scotland have taken a momentous decision to remain part of the United Kingdom.

As Leader of Newcastle – a city with such close economic, historical and cultural links with Scotland – I’m delighted twe can continue to work together to build a more prosperous and above all fairer society across all parts of the United Kingdom.

We are, I believe, better together and the people of Scotland have endorsed that very principle in this historic vote.

But anyone who thinks this referendum is a reaffirmation of the status quo is sorely mistaken. This is not a case of constitutional ‘business as usual’. To use a much quoted phrase, the genie is out of the bottle.

The debate over the last few months in Scotland has given voice to a deep dissatisfaction with the centralised nature of our country – economically and politically.

From the perspective of a region much closer to Scotland than to London – geographically, and in terms of politics, culture and values – we have a similar passion and a desire to take our destiny into our own hands.

As a United Kingdom, we now have an opportunity – indeed an obligation – to address the centralisation of power which has come so close to fracturing the UK. That opportunity applies to the English regions, as well as to Scotland.

This morning, speaking on the steps of Downing Street, the Prime Minister said he was going to deliver legislation on major constitutional reform by January and that further announcements on the future of cities will follow.

I believe an English Parliament, inevitably weighted in favour towards the needs of London and the South East, is not the answer.

It would replicate all the problems with the current Westminster system – remote decision making, centralisation of powers and a lack of local democratic engagement. From a political point of view it would almost certainly be dominated by Tories from the shires and counties, further marginalising our city and our region.

We need a timetable to devolve powers to cities like Newcastle, where we’ve got the appetite and zeal for reform, alongside the timetable for devolving powers to the Scottish Parliament.

Anything less would further stoke the flames of resentment within England’s cities and regions about once again being overlooked by a London-based political elite.

Rather than hurried proposals, made in the wake of this historic vote, we need a proper constitutional convention to discuss our nation’s future in depth. I don’t want a ‘talking shop’, but I do want to make sure we consider all the arguments and possibilities.

But there is also a need to take action now and I’m already talking with the big cities in Scotland, exploring areas where we can work together for the benefit of all our residents and businesses. To really deepen that relationship, places like Newcastle need the powers to be able to operate on a level playing field with Scottish cities.

Finally, I have been struck by how the referendum in Scotland has electrified political debate, with people of all backgrounds coming together to debate ideas and issues that matter to them. The voter turnout is unprecedented in modem times for elections in these islands.

So, I want to work with others across the political spectrum to ensure that future elections locally and across the UK inspire such passion and enthusiasm. There is real opportunity to make lasting change in our country. Things will never be the same again. I will make sure Newcastle is at the forefront of the debate to come.

Super fans unite us all

September 15, 2014

There are, from time to time, these events that happen in the world.

They shock us.

They appal us.

In some cases they may even makes us fearful. Yet we never expect to be connected to the pictures we see on the news.

The loss of Malaysian Airlines flight MH 17 in July was one of these events. And yet as the news emerged, many of us in this city and the wider area began to hear that in fact we were personally connected to it.

John Alder and Liam Sweeney were two of the most passionate supporters of Newcastle United. The former had missed one game of any description since 1973. He was kind-hearted, thoughtful and though I never knew him too well, I will always remember the time he took pity on a naïve, let’s just say 18 year old, who’d forgotten his wallet at one game in Germany and he along with many others took me under his wing and made sure the effects the morning after of consuming large quantities of hops, yeast, barley and water were suitably well-conveyed in a highly practical manner.

Liam I knew rather better. He used to regularly steward the supporters buses that I use. He was a contemporary of mine and had basically seen the same ups and considerable downs as I had over past decades. Though his desire and willingness to get to, or at least try and get to, every game far out-stripped mine. I remember one cold evening when we’d just been turned over 6-0 if I remember in Manchester. There were some road works on the M62 and what should have been a short 3 hour hop over ended up taking us nearer to seven. I was sat with Liam on the way back. Before the coach even started its engine he was asking if I was going to Portsmouth a few weeks later. Colleagues may not realise, but having lost 6-0, it takes a special supporter to focus on the mammoth day trip to Portsmouth, armed only with some sandwiches and a single functioning coach toilet.

But it was not just knowing John and Liam that made this a deeply personal event. As demonstrated by the magnificent fundraising efforts spearheaded online by some Sunderland fans. The community that supports football felt this deeply. Why? Because we all felt it could so easily have been us. We all would have been in New Zealand if logistics had allowed. John and Liam were two football supporters off to follow the team they loved. And through no fault of their own they never came back. Not only did we lose two individuals many knew. John and Liam are a symbol. They represent something that unless you yourself share, I accept it is hard to understand.

I have a love-hate relationship with the football club. I love the club with a passion. And that love leads to a certain upset when things are not done correctly. And in many ways it’s hard to define what correctly is. Ask on a Saturday afternoon, especially when we’ve lost, at about 4.55pm. You’ll get 50,000 different answers. However, the announcements by Newcastle United Football Club to commemorate John and Liam through the unveiled garden, the events around the first game of the season (which I can tell colleagues were very tasteful and deeply moving) and through the new Alder Sweeney Community Award are not just to be welcomed, they are to be praised and encouraged and given a place at the civic heart of this city.

Too often the portrayal of football supporters in this City is done negatively. Worse it is often done in a stereotypical or patronising manner. What I can say is that for some of us not only does it matter and we enjoy it. But it is often the basis of our friendships, our social lives, and is a solid base to which many of us have turned to when needing a distraction from the realities of our day to day lives. John and Liam like all us all did not choose to follow Newcastle United. It’s always something that chooses you.

The world can be a very dark place on occasions. However the actions of Newcastle United, and the football community in general have shown that despite no, almost because of that darkness, people can come together and really show what matters in life. And yes that does include us humble football supporters.

The late Sir Bobby Robson, whose own foundation has benefitted so well from the fundraising efforts of the football supporting community once very famously said the following, which I will end on:

“What is a football club in any case?” “Not the buildings or the directors or the people who are paid to represent it.” It’s not the television contracts, get-out clauses, marketing departments or executive boxes.”

“It’s the noise, the passion, the feeling of belonging, the pride in your city.” “It’s a small boy clambering up stadium steps for the very first time, gripping his father’s hand, gawping at that hallowed stretch of turf beneath him and, without being able to do a thing about it, falling in love.”

State of the City Address

August 13, 2014

Many organisations like the Centre for Cities, together with all the English Core Cities, have been campaigning long and hard to encourage Whitehall to allow us to have greater control over how the taxes we raise are used to deliver the best outcomes for local people.

We believe that we have an inarguable case – and our goal is the ensure that this is reflected in the manifestos of all three major political parties ahead of next year’s general election.

We make this case not because we because we believe cities should be independent of central government – but because we are a vital delivery partner for a government seeking to accelerate growth. Our cities are at the forefront of social and economic change. We have led the way on everything from manufacturing technology to public health. Cities can be the engines of growth but they must be freed from the shackles of government control if they are to truly reach their potential.

Here in Newcastle, and in all the other Core Cities, we are taking responsibility for shaping our own future. Together, through our ‘City Centred’ campaign we are making some fundamental requests to the Government:

  • Extend the concept of the Local Growth Fund for capital funds – but make it big enough support cities and regions to make big decisions.
  • Lift the Housing Revenue Account borrowing cap so that cities can fund more housing development.
  • Generate certainty with greater local control of public spending and budgets that are the length of parliaments.
  • Devolve property taxes to cities and enable them to control other local taxes.
  • Consider the formation of a Local Investment Bank across all the core cities

Core cities can be the standard bearers for a new way of thinking that benefit both central and local government, with new arrangements for shared accountability and joint responsibility.

By working together on shared priorities at the local level we can respond positively to the financial challenge to identify long-term commitments that allow us to plan and invest in better outcomes for our residents. We do this based on local knowledge of our own communities which cannot be matched by decision makers in distant Whitehall departments.

Our Economy – August update

August 13, 2014

The UK is – at last – experiencing a significant economic recovery. The latest forecasts from the IMF are for output to expand by more than 3% this year, remaining above-trend next year too. Unemployment has fallen to 6.5% and, when including the impact of population growth, the number of jobs is at a record high. Although encouraging, this follows a long and protracted recession and period of stagnation; GDP per capita remains slightly below pre-recession levels.

In a Council business briefing earlier this year, we reported that surveys of firms in the region were generally positive, but that we had yet to see much of an upturn in either the labour or housing markets in Newcastle. In the past three months, we have seen an improvement to both – with employment increasing strongly and house prices and sales improving a little (but remaining well below their pre-recession levels).

Looking forward, the economic and population forecasts for the UK point towards rapid jobs growth. Should Newcastle’s economy grow in line with the UK average, we should also expect to see strong improvements here too, with over 5000 jobs created in the next four years.

Clearly there are significant uncertainties and risks around these forecasts. On the downside, Newcastle is under-represented in some of the business sectors currently experiencing rapid growth nationally, while forecasts for the UK as a whole may prove to be too optimistic. But there is also the possibility that we could see more rapid improvement, with a closing of the ‘unemployment wedge’ with the rest of the country, which widened during the recession.

State of the City: a prosperous future for Newcastle

July 29, 2014

I want to start by talking about our radical past, and how I believe that passion and spirit is intact and is key to helping us prosper over the years ahead.

You know, there’s a mistaken perception put about by some that local government is always reluctant to embrace radical change. That we’re the last bastion of outdated working practices, a barrier to progress and out of touch with the ‘real world’.

The truth is utterly different. Newcastle is forging a reputation as a place that’s not afraid to do things differently. In the face of the biggest budget challenge for a generation we’ve had to ‘think different’ to save libraries, swimming pools and children’s centres from closure.

We’ve been at the forefront of the argument for cities to have more control over the money they raise, creating jobs and connecting people back to decisions taken on their behalf. Newcastle is one of the 8 English Core Cities – along with Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham, Leeds, Sheffield, Bristol and Liverpool – and two years ago we formed a political Cabinet of leaders to accelerate the pace of change. As Vice Chair of the Cabinet I am proud to be leading the Core Cities work on public sector reform – arguing the that local government and all public sector organisations to be given the freedom to pool budgets and spend them as they, not some distant Whitehall mandarin, feel fit.

We’ve been pioneering this work here. We’ve created the UK’s first Culture Fund, our initiative to establish a culture of philanthropy towards our city’s arts institutions.
We’ve continued to build, helping to change our city’s skyline by partnering with others on developments like Science Central and Stephenson Quarter.
We’ve embraced and worked with the Government to deliver the Troubled Familes programme making a real difference to hundreds of lives blighted by unemployment, poor school attendance and alienation.

I want to place work like this into an historical context. Two centuries ago, in cities across the North people started to come together to talk about the big issues of their time. The coffee houses where people from Hall Green, Gorton or Grainger Town met were the birthplaces of movements that changed British society for the better. Those reformers had that precious resource that tends to galvanise any social movement: anger. Anger at injustice and a vision for a better, fairer world. All of England’s core cities, including Newcastle, played a role in achieving badly needed social change, fighting against an establishment that – when not indifferent – was actively hostile.
And sometimes they did fight. They were home to revolts and uprisings around everything from rising food prices to the threat of machines in textile mills. But as well as taking part in the occasional violent revolt, our radicals engaged. They published pamphlets, formed movements for change, lobbied their often hopelessly corrupt MPs and gradually achieved real change. They formed power companies, transport boards, housing corporations. They invested in clean water supplies and sewers, built schools and provided health care facilities. They were the radicals of their day, creating the concept of municipal local government.

Today, here in Newcastle, that public spirited legacy is in great danger. Having already implemented the most severe cuts to our revenue budget in a generation we now face a least three more years of austerity.
The challenges and potential reductions to services are difficult to contemplate. My argument is that if the city council is to survive it needs much greater freedom and flexibility from central government to take charge of our own destiny.

Less than one fifth of the council’s budget is raised through council tax. The rest comes from government grants and other funding handed out via formulae that are often changed at the stroke of a ministerial pen. Yet probably about 90% of what the council does is required to be done by Acts of Parliament. As a consequence, when government funding is cut, real people suffer – buildings close and services reduce. We need to fix the broken relationship between income and expenditure, with much greater local control over both.

Let me give you some examples of how we want to do things differently.

We’ve all seen it in Newcastle, the devastating effects of long-term unemployment. The solutions aren’t simple, it’s not a case of ‘get on your bike and find work’.
Unemployment in Newcastle is caused by a complex mix of barriers to opportunity, poor health, poor housing, poor skills, job insecurity and an under-performing economy. Although other areas suffer similar symptoms, the causes are different. You won’t find the same mix of challenges in Newcastle as in Derby, Brighton or Cardiff.

That’s why these challenges require local solutions, tailored to the needs of individuals and their communities. They can’t be addressed through contractual relationships with prime providers covering whole regions, through complex payment-by-results mechanisms which distort activity towards those least expensive to help.

We all know the nationally commissioned Work Programme hasn’t delivered to expectations. From the core cities, on the current level of performance, we know that half a million people will complete the programme without finding work.

But we know locally delivered programmes get better results. While the national Youth Contract programme underperforms, the locally delivered pilots in Leeds, Newcastle and Gateshead are delivering results that are nearly twice as effective. Yet this freedom wasn’t given to us; we had to bid for it, in competition with other areas, in effect having to beg permission to use our own money.

We’re also prepared to take more responsibility for the other big challenge of our time, our ageing population.
Make no mistake, it’s fantastic that medical advances, better diet and better technology mean people live longer, but it presents us with a number of practical problems.

That’s why we’ve been at the forefront of the age friendly city movement. We value the tremendous social and economic contribution of our elders. We’re willing to redesign services and think differently about how our cities are designed. We see an ageing society not as a burden but as an economic and social opportunity.

But we also face the downside. Spiralling budgets for social care, creating unsustainable costs for councils, constant arguments with providers over money and reduced spending on preventative services that keep older people healthy and out of hospital.

The core cities including Newcastle, are willing to take responsibility for a new approach. We need to break through the institutional barriers that get in the way. A more locally-accountable health and social care service, a whole system approach which saves money, and improves care and life chances.
The evidence has shown that integrating health and social care could save up to 15% on delivery costs, for reinvestment into services which improve outcomes for our most frail and vulnerable citizens.

Two examples of modern radicalism in Newcastle – unemployment and an ageing society. But if we are prepared to be radical, we must persuade Whitehall – which has its fair share of outdated working practices and methods – to do the same and join us on the journey.
I believe we’re starting to win the battle. Last month the Chancellor made major commitments to northern cities, and a few days later a report by Lord Adonis – no doubt heavily influenced by his work in the North east – reinforced the view that England’s cities are major economic powerhouses with enormous untapped potential.
It is no accident that we are beginning to see an emerging cross-party consensus behind the idea that devolving powers and resources to cities like Newcastle will help us create more sustainable long term growth.

There is an undeniable need to break free of our overdependence on London as the focus for the UK’s economic growth. It results in an unbalanced and fractured economy. All of us have the potential to contribute – we just want the freedoms to play our part.
Many organisations like the Centre for Cities, together with all the English Core Cities, have been campaigning long and hard to encourage Whitehall to allow us to have greater control over how the taxes we raise are used to deliver the best outcomes for local people.
We believe that we have an inarguable case – and our goal is the ensure that this is reflected in the manifestos of all three major political parties ahead of next year’s general election.
We make this case not because we because we believe cities should be independent of central government – but because we are a vital delivery partner for a government seeking to accelerate growth. Our cities are at the forefront of social and economic change. We have led the way on everything from manufacturing technology to public health. Cities can be the engines of growth but they must be freed from the shackles of government control if they are to truly reach their potential.

Let’s look at some of the facts. The core cities together with their surrounding urban areas:

  • Are home to 16 million people – a third of the population of England.
  • Generate 27% of England’s wealth (that’s more than London).
  • House half the country’s leading universities.

Yet in England 95% of all taxes raised in cities go back to the government, and most of the funding that comes back to us does so with strings attached. This is stifling local innovation and hampering the ability of local decisions makers to pursue local priorities.

This centralist approach is in stark contrast to the rest of the world – German cities control six times more of the taxes they raise, in the USA it is seven times and in Canada ten times more of locally raised taxes are controlled by the authorities that directly represent the local tax payer. In other countries it is the norm for major cities to outperform the national economy. In the UK only London does this consistently.
English cities lack the level of financial control enjoyed by our international competitors. We are not competing on a level playing field. In a Global marketplace we are competing against other cities for investment and jobs hamstrung by Whitehall meddling which stifles local ambition and innovation.

This matters because I defy any Whitehall mandarin or politician to surpass the passion we feel for our city. I defy them to demonstrate a greater understanding of the needs of our local communities and businesses. We understand the nature and needs of Newcastle and the North East better than anyone else.

Newcastle has a sense of pride and passion that is unsurpassed. Our pride in place is what binds us all together. It is what makes us care for each other and creates the opportunity to define a stronger sense of what a cohesive society in a great city can be.

The likelihood of some form of devolution in Scotland, no matter what Scots decide in September, adds another dimension to the debate. If greater powers and financial flexibility are good news north of the border, why not in the great English cities? The English Core Cities are already in close dialogue with Edinburgh and Glasgow to discuss how we join together to develop the devolution debate in the interests of us all.
Greater freedom to decide how to spend the money generated in cities, such as property taxes, would help the Core Cities meet their target of outperforming the national economy, and becoming financially self-sustaining.
Independent forecasts demonstrate this could mean an additional £222 billion and 1.3 million jobs for the country by 2030. That is like adding the entire economy of Denmark to the UK. This could also mean and additional £41.6 billion to the government in taxes from increased jobs by 2030 – enough to pay off almost half the national deficit. And that’s not by raising the level of taxes – just by changing how taxes are invested.

I have no doubt that the government would argue that it is already on the road to empowering cities – through the local growth fund and City Deals.
Whilst these are welcome developments, we should remember that local growth pot of around £2 billion is a drop in the ocean compared to Lord Heseltine’s original recommendation that £70 billion be devolved from Whitehall to local areas to get the economy moving. Persuading Whitehall mandarins to relax their iron grip on the purse strings remains one of biggest challenges.
But we must make the most of what is available and it would be churlish not to acknowledge the potential we have been able to unlock through the City Deal which I was able to negotiate for Newcastle. The deal allows us to borrow to fund development and use the additional business rates by the investment to pay the loan back. This releases £92 million to invest in our cities future, generating a massive £1 billion return and 13,000 jobs over the next 25 years.

And already we are beginning to see the benefits – the development of the Stephenson Quarter moving forward at pace; Science City, the biggest city centre investment site outside London, rising up on the site of the old federation brewery; and Central Station transformed into a modern gateway to a vibrant city.

The City Deal has also unlocked transport improvements around the city with improvements to key junctions on the A1 – particular at the UKs most congested road junction at Lobley Hill which will be improved in the very near future.

Modern cities need modern and effective transport systems if they are to remain competitive and it was pleasing that all of our proposals for upgrading Newcastle’s road network were successful in the recent round of local growth fund allocations. This will contribute to one of the most significant transformations of our road network for a generation as we implement a plan to improve links around, across and within the heart of the city. Much of this work will begin in the year ahead. The long term benefits will be enormous – but inevitably there will be some short term pain for motorists as we carry out the work. Please bear with us!

A key part of our city’s transport future will be linked to cycling. I’m proud that we’ve managed to lever in almost £6m from central Government through the Cycle City Ambition Fund. There will be again be short term disruption while we build the infrastructure, but again I believe the pay-off – in terms of easing congestion and public health – will be enormous.
Meanwhile, good work is happening now. Newcastle’s growing reputation as a cycle-friendly place will be underlined this weekend when thousands of cyclists take part in SkyRide on Newcastle and Gateshead Quayside.
And our Go Smarter campaign continues to tempt more and more people away from the car, easing congestion at peak times and encouraging healthier and more active lifestyles.

Another vitally important part of our future plans is to create more places for people to live within our city. One of the reasons why our roads are so congested at peak times is because a lack of family homes within Newcastle means many people have to commute from outside the city for work. The unprecedented demand for the first homes to be built in Scotswood is a real sign that there is untapped potential in our housing market.
That is why the proposals for new homes in our Local Plan are so important if we are to plan effectively for the expected growth in our population. The plan is currently being examined by a government appointed planning inspector. There are still some issues to be resolve – but we hope the plan will be adopted early next year to provide a clear blueprint for how our city will develop and grow in the years ahead.

We know we are going through tough times – but this is not a time not despondency. Despite what some national journalists might have you believe we are no Detroit. Nor are we teetering on the brink. There is no denying that our city and our region have challenges that we must face up to and address. But we also know that we have the boundless ambition, energy talent and passion to fight for our city and our region.

After a lengthy gestation the North East Combined Authority is up and running and taking responsibility for the big strategic decisions that impact on skills, investment and transport across the region. Our Local Enterprise Partnership is bringing political leaders, public policy makers and business brains together to make the right investment decisions for the North East – on the back of a coherent Strategic Economic Plan based on consensus not competition. We have the structures and governance in place to take full responsibility the decisions that impact on our local community. All government needs to do is release the brake to allow us to travel further and faster.

Here in Newcastle, and in all the other Core Cities, we are taking responsibility for shaping our own future. Together, through our ‘City Centred’ campaign we are making some fundamental requests to Government, this one and the next:

Extend the concept of the Local Growth Fund for capital funds – but make it big enough support cities and regions to make big decisions.

Lift the Housing Revenue Account borrowing cap so that cities can fund more housing development.

Generate certainty with greater local control of public spending and budgets that are the length of parliaments.

Devolve property taxes to cities and enable them to control other local taxes.

Consider the formation of a Local Investment Bank across all the core cities

To do this we need “place-based” settlements for public spending in each of our major cities, rather than the fragmenting of scarce resources through multiple Whitehall departments and agencies. And we recognise that this approach requires a culture change in our cities, as well as in Westminster and Whitehall. We have been working hard with our partners in Newcastle to develop our own thinking about how we pool our resources, capacity and knowledge to address our challenges.

I’ve talked tonight about how we can prosper if we have more control. But it’s no use having more freedom if there’s a vacuum of ideas. It’s no good if all this discussion simply creates an expectation of greater public sector involvement or intervention. Tonight’s debate must also be about what you, the collective leadership of this city, can do to make a difference, however small, to the state of Newcastle. It’s about how we work together.

Tonight’s hashtag is Think Newcastle and that’s exactly what I want you to do. Think about what you can do to make our city an even better place to live and work. Think about your role in our city’s civic life.
Think about the apprenticeship you can offer, the schools you could work with, the campaigns you can back, the letter to an MP or decision-maker you can write, the local initiative you can sponsor.

Think about what you can do to make a difference and continue our radical heritage well into the 21st century.

Now is a time to be bold, to think different, to think Newcastle.


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