JULIE ELLIOTT: Devolution will put the power in the hands of local people

For too long now, public transport in and around Sunderland simply hasn’t been good enough.

Thursday, 2nd December 2021, 12:00 am
Buses, more than anything else, are essential to keeping high streets alive, to getting people to work and giving families options.

For too long now, public transport in and around Sunderland simply hasn’t been good enough.

Not just the underfunded-Metro, which was facing up to financial problems even before the pandemic hit, but also on our buses.

Buses, more than anything else, are essential to keeping high streets alive, to getting people to work and giving families options.

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Here in Sunderland, the council has almost no say over buses. We’ve seen prices go up year after year, with routes cut and bigger gaps between buses on too many routes.

The solution: a devolution deal that puts us on the road to better buses, and better jobs.

The Government is currently in talks with Sunderland and other councils here in the North East about a new devolution deal. It’ll bring with it more than £600m for public transport, but it also opens the way to those London-style transport powers that our councils and Nexus can’t afford to do now.

There are other devolved powers on offer, and they all mean decisions about our region being taken by people in our region, rather than by officials in London who have never even seen in Sunderland.

With a new mayor we will eventually have one person, who is able to take charge when it comes to setting routes and fares and is directly accountable to the electorate.

It is that level of direct, local control over buses routes that convince me, more than anything else, that we have to get started on devolution in Sunderland.

Under this Government, only those with a mayor are getting the real investment.

The Government will not even hand over the £600m public transport fund to us until we agree to a mayor. It’s not the way investment should be decided, but it’s the only option we have right now.

The Government had the opportunity last week to fund vital transport infrastructure in the North East through the Integrated Rail Plan that it presented to Parliament, but it failed to do so.

A commitment to funding the Leamside Line would have shown the Government’s attention and care for the region, but yet again it cast it aside.

So that’s why I’m urging the Government to work with our council leaders and bring a new era of devolution to Sunderland and the North East.

It’s time we started a new chapter for Sunderland, one in which the people here have the biggest say over our future.