Maria Eagle's Speech to Labour Party Conference

26 September 2011

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Maria Eagle

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Conference.

As Liverpool’s voice in the Shadow Cabinet, I’m proud to welcome you to our fantastic city. A city transformed under a Labour government. A city determined not to be dragged back, despite the best efforts of the Tories and Liberal Democrats. And I pay tribute to the inspirational leadership of Joe Anderson as he steers our city through tough times.

And in May, Liverpool told the Liberal Democrats what we thought of their decision to sell out this city. To prop up a Tory government. We defeated them in seat after seat. And I want to welcome to his first conference our energetic new councillor for Wavertree: elected in May at just 18 years old: Jake Morrison. 

It’s great to see Liverpool leading the way on transport. Outside London, the only city to take control of its rail network. Keeping fares down. And about to introduce our version of London’s Oystercard: the Walrus – the first travelcard in the country that buys more than just your ticket.

And wouldn’t it be good if London was once again led by someone who understands why transport matters? Someone who doesn’t let bus and tube fares spiral, but brings them under control. So let’s ensure the next Mayor of London is a Labour Mayor: Ken Livingstone. 

Devolving funding and decision making over transport is making a real difference in our cities. But in government we didn’t go far enough. 

That’s why our policy review has been looking at how we can devolve more transport responsibilities. Local and regional rail services. Investment in our roads. These are decisions that should be made locally, by integrated transport authorities. Not just in our major cities but right across the country. 

And, just like in London, powers to deliver bus services in the way that best suits each community. Quality Contracts were a good start. But the incentives to use them just aren’t there and the risks too great. 

In too many places: No accountability. No way for local communities to set priorities. Profits, not passengers, too often driving decisions. 

So, our policy review is looking at the right way to reverse bus deregulation. 

But it’s not right to say that this government doesn’t believe in devolution. When it suits them. 

Like devolving to local authorities the cuts to local transport. Half a billion pounds, this year alone. 

Setting back the progress we made on road safety. 

Setting back initiatives to get people cycling and walking.

Cutting bus services: Reducing opportunities for young people. Increasing social isolation. 

Just think back to the election. Remember the TV debates? Remember David Cameron’s outrage when we warned that free bus passes for older people were under threat? Yet he’s slashed funding for the scheme. So bus routes are being cut. And now, up and down the country, pensioners want to know: what use is a free bus pass without a bus? 

And do you know what is even more despicable?

Ending reduced fares on coaches for older and disabled people. Cutting a lifeline. Causing misery and isolation this Christmas. 

And who has been in the driving seat of these cuts? Liberal Democrat Transport Minister, Norman Baker. Fast becoming a modern day Beeching for the buses.

The same Norman Baker who promised to cut rail fares at the election. But is hiking them by 8%. Not for one year. But three years in a row. 

Eye watering ticket prices. Not my words. But Transport Secretary Philip Hammond’s. Has there ever been a Secretary of State so out of touch with the day to day lives of millions of people, up and down the country?

And the Lib Dems just let him get away with it. 

And what has Norman Baker got in return?

The centrepiece of his conference speech last week:

The Road Signs Review.

I think we know which road signs will survive his review.

No left turn.

U-turn here.

And no doubt we’ll be seeing lots more Give Way signs.

Giving way on rail fares.

Giving way on bus cuts.

Norman Baker: the Give Way Minister in a Give Way party: that’s the Liberal Democrats in this Tory-led Government.

It’s right to blame the government for bus cuts and fare rises. 

But the transport companies have a social responsibility too. And since privatisation, we’ve not seen enough of it.

We’ve stood by the bus companies as the government has cut their subsidies. Now I want them to stand by Britain’s next generation. 

So today I call on them to work together. And in return for the support they receive, invest some of their profits in Britain's young people. And in time for the next academic year, deliver a concessionary fares scheme for 16-18 year olds in education or training. And if they don’t, the government should insist that they do.

And we need greater responsibility from the train operating companies too.

So when rail franchises come up, here’s what the government should do.

Not reward companies that walk away from franchises to avoid payments to Government. Then expect to bid again or carry on making money somewhere else on the network.

Not reward companies who stealthily widen peak time, to charge the highest prices for more of the day.

Not reward companies who average out the fare cap, so commuters pay way over the odds for a ticket. Even though Tory ministers tell them it’s OK.

That’s the irresponsibility at the top that Ed Miliband has pledged that a future Labour government will tackle. No more something for nothing in our privatised industries. 

And let’s be honest. Our rail system is not fit for purpose and needs radical change. And I think we were too timid about this in government. 

It cannot be right that the rail industry costs the taxpayer £4bn a year, yet a few at the top can walk away with hundreds of millions of pounds in profit every year.

The Tory answer? Close ticket offices. Sack frontline staff. Profit driving infrastructure, not just services. Back to the days of Railtrack. 

But there is an alternative.

Isn’t it time to tackle the fragmentation of our rail industry that is the disastrous legacy of the Tory privatisation?

Because it is madness that the taxpayer has to pay compensation to train companies while track is repaired – even though it’s essential to run their services.

It is madness that the taxpayer then pays the same company again, so that their bus division can provide a rail replacement service. 

I think that if your train is replaced by a bus, your ticket should cost less. But under our fragmented industry, that won’t happen. Because the train companies will just pass on the cost to the taxpayer.

The country wants us to find a better way to deliver rail service in Britain. That’s what we heard loud and clear in our policy review.

They manage it in other parts of the EU. And we can do it here.

So, over the coming months, we will be looking at the right way to bring order back to the chaos in our railways. 

And let’s have a new deal for British train manufacturing too.

When the Prime Minister took his Cabinet to Derby, home of our last train manufacturer, he said he’d support local businesses. Then placed a massive order for new trains with a company that will build them in Germany. 

It’s time to nail a lie. 

If the government thought the tender was wrong: they had every right to rip it up and start again.

The truth? As Philip Hammond has admitted: it just didn’t occur to him. 

Because this is a government that cannot think beyond the bottom line. 

The local workforce at Bombardier should be proud of the way they are fighting. Not just for their jobs, but for the future of train manufacturing in this country. And we should be proud of the fantastic job that our local Labour MPs - Margaret Beckett and Chris Williamson - are doing. And the effort and resources of the trade unions, leading this fight. We stand with you and we must keep fighting for those jobs. 

And let’s make sure that never again do we stack the odds so badly against Britain.

So today I say to Philip Hammond: there is no faith that your Department will give British manufacturing a fair chance. So hand over responsibility for ordering the new Crossrail trains to Transport for London, which - thanks to Labour - has a track record of buying British. And, while we’re at it, let’s show our commitment to rail devolution by letting them manage more of London’s suburban rail services. Providing another opportunity for British train manufacturing.

And let’s set out a long term strategy for investing in our rail infrastructure.

No more talk of classic rail, but a network transformed with a programme to complete electrification and introduce a new generation of high speed inter-city trains. And, yes, let’s also tackle capacity problems between north and south. And in the only credible way it can be done. 

That’s why it was Labour that set out plans for a new high speed line. Not just from London to Birmingham, but on to Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds. Cutting journey times across the UK, benefitting Glasgow and Edinburgh. And, yes, bringing Liverpool under 100 minutes from London.

But the Tory-led Government is only planning to take powers to construct the line as far as Birmingham which casts real doubt on their long term commitment to delivering high speed rail in the north. They should think again and ensure the whole route is included in the forthcoming legislation. 

And let’s make it a line that is affordable for the many, not the few. Because when Philip Hammond says, that if you work in a factory in Manchester you will never use it. But, not to worry, because you’ll benefit when your company director does. I’m sorry but that is a Tory vision for high speed rail, not a Labour vision. Philip Hammond may think it is a rich man’s toy, but I don’t. I know you don’t. And a future Labour government never will. 

So, Conference.

We have a tough journey ahead of us.

We’ve only just set out.

So celebrating what we achieved. Recognising what we got wrong.

We’ve started to chart a new course for transport.

Putting communities in charge, here in Liverpool and across Britain.

Tackling irresponsibility at the top.

Backing British manufacturing, jobs and growth.

Affordability, our number one priority.

That’s Labour’s new direction for transport.