A senior MP has called on Chris Grayling to clarify the criteria he would use to assess bids for sub-national transport bodies (STBs), after the transport secretary said they are ‘not the answer for every part of the country’.
Clive Betts MP, chair of the Community and Local Government Committee, told Transport Network that he generally agreed with Mr Grayling’s approach but that a lack of clarity could pose difficulties for councils.
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In a speech on Monday (7 November) Mr Grayling said he was ‘no fan of devolution for devolution’s sake’ or of changes that ‘to drivers and passengers look like the endless rearrangement of deckchairs’.
On the subject of STBs, he said: ‘If we are to set up new public bodies, funded by taxpayers, we need very good reasons for doing so.’ Mr Grayling cited Transport for the North (TfN) and Midlands Connect as ‘doing fantastic work, proving the benefits that come from local decision-making’.
He added: ‘I am sure bodies like these could be part of the solution in other areas too, even if they are not the answer for every part of the country.’
The Cities and Local Government Devolution Act sets out relatively vague criteria for creating an STB. Following a bid from prospective constituent authorities, the transport secretary can only give approval if he considers it would facilitate the development and implementation of transport strategies that would further the objective of economic growth in the area.
Mr Betts told Transport Network he broadly agreed with Mr Grayling’s approach. He said: ‘The same solution will not necessarily work for every part of the country. That’s partly what devolution is about – doing things that are appropriate for the needs of particular areas.’
He said he was familiar with TfN’s work pulling together regional strategic ideas, adding: ‘That works - it doesn’t necessarily work everywhere. Other places where they want a similar body will have to prove its working.’
Mr Betts said it was unlikely that the Department for Transport (DfT) would set out clear criteria for assessing bids.
‘I think it will look at each case on its merits, which is a problem because it means areas aren’t quite sure, if they’re thinking of setting something up, what the DfT’s reaction will be,’ he said.
‘So it would be helpful if the secretary of state could be more explicit about the criteria he uses to decide which bodies are appropriate and which work.’
A DfT spokesman confirmed that the department had not set any criteria beyond what the legislation required but said the transport secretary would consider applications ‘on a case-by-case basis’.