The Autumn statement is now just around the corner and we await the Chancellor’s annual attempt to sugar-coat his agenda of cuts to public services, council budgets and, of course, the incomes of working people.
Independent economists have predicted that George Osborne’s proposal to cut £4 billion in tax credits mean millions of working households will lose at least £1,000 a year. With policies like that, it is ridiculous for the government to claim that it is the party of working people.
Pressure is building on all sides for the government to drop this policy and go back to the drawing board.
I hope it will, but although he was told to think again by the House of Lords, his own backbenchers, the media, and public opinion across the country, I suspect this most ideologically driven of Chancellors will not back down. Even if he does so, we can be sure that cuts will hit other areas even harder instead.
A couple of weeks have passed since the QCS board rejected the Quality Contract Scheme (QCS) for local bus services. I remain deeply disappointed by this decision and I know that many local people who put up with an expensive and inadequate bus service in Tyne and Wear feel the same way.
The North East Combined Authority was absolutely right to put the current legislation to the test in order to try to change the failed status quo.
A London-style QCS would have integrated routes and fares and ensured taxpayer subsidies were used to maintain and improve services. But the QCS board’s decision to put profits before passengers has shown the limits of the current legislation.
It also calls into question the new powers announced by the government as part of the region’s devolution deal.
That deal would give us franchised bus services and smart, integrated ticketing across the North East. I welcome the change of heart on bus franchising, but following the QCS board’s decision we urgently need clarity as to what powers we will actually get to fix the broken system of local bus transport in our region.
That’s why I will be pressing ministers to end this confusion in the forthcoming Buses Bill and make sure our new devolution deal is worth the paper it’s written on.
The fight for a more efficient, integrated and affordable local transport network goes on.