A Manifesto for 2019 | Towns of England, your time has come!

Britain’s towns had a higher profile at Labour Conference 2018 than they have ever had.  In addition to both Labour: COAST&COUNTRY (LCC) fringes, they were on the agenda of a Fabian fringe, a CPRE/Hastoe event, as well as other sessions where Lisa Nandy MP among others had an opportunity to speak up for towns everywhere.  And then post conference Labour’s party political broadcast jointed the party and spoke up for ‘your town’.

The local elections of 2019 offer Labour a real chance to land some of this understanding, as that election is almost exclusively being held at the district council tier, the councils that service many of the towns we are seeking to win.

LCC has always campaigned for the district and country council elections to have a bespoke national agenda that properly spoke to those places, and wasn’t a re-tread of a general election or urban take on life.  As one speaker at our fringes said “these elections aren’t about saving the NHS!!”.  No indeed, they are about the issues of rural and coastal communities who are less access to services than their urban friends, that have fewer choices of secondary education or primary care services, who see austerity making their town or village suffer, dis-connecting them with the almost abolition of bus services, and leaving them a dumping ground for the 1,000 new home estate.

With the ‘your town’ PPB we can see the powers that be are getting it; to help them set the right tone for Labour’s campaigning in 2019 at conference we launched ‘A Manifesto for 2019’  Please read or download it here; share it widely with your CLP, your district council candidates, and of course send us and the shadow front bench your thoughts on it!

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A Trip to Pershore | Hywel Lloyd

A warm evening and a railway station with a Betjeman poem on the platform (Pershore station, or a Liverish Journey First Class) – a very English setting from which to be picked up for an evening’s discussion with the Pershore branch of West Worcester CLP, and their guests from Evesham.

Gathering in a recently refurbished room of the Town Hall twenty or so members had come from Pershore, Evesham, Bredon and further afield, reminding us that a Labour meeting in the country is a much more complicated feat of logistics than just getting a bus, or walking in an urban setting.

After a brief introduction to the history of LCC, and some of its recent activity, the first key question of the evening was put – what are the biggest issues for your community, that you think Labour could and should address?

For these communities, the major issues are transport and housing.

For the former there are issues of the poor state of the roads; and particular concerns about the availability and accessibility of public transport.  Even with a main rail connection to Worcester and to London, buses are few and far between; everyone appreciated that Jeremy Corbyn had led on buses at PMQs in the week.

Housing concerns included what is available for rent, for older people as well as for young people, and affordability; while recognising that mass developments of 500 to 1,000 homes at a time are often just dumped on a community, with little regard to integration with the existing place, building of the necessary facilities that make a community, or provision of local public services to support the doubling in size of a village.  A good word is offered in favour of neighbourhood planning as a way of addressing these issues of integration and appropriate development, yet it feels that even this community-led engagement in planning can often be over-run by ‘development’ and ‘housing targets’, and even in one case the housing targets of a neighbouring county being displaced over the county border!

The NHS and health services get a mention, recognising the need to keep it local, not forcing a centralisation that then deprives people of access especially given the transport issues already mentioned; not forgetting air quality and clean air can also be a rural issue, especially if the M5 isn’t far away….  Finally, one or two other issues that shouldn’t be forgotten – poverty is prevalent here and is often overlooked, while agricultural work offers low wages and suffers a shortage of available labour.

Listening to local people, their issues and preferred solutions is a good starting point to the work of any branch or CLP, especially a growing one with new members and new opportunities.  We discussed the sorts of things that could be done, drawing upon the lessons from other branches and CLPs across the country. 

And then we thought ahead.  May 2019 will be England’s election, nothing much urban, and no elections in Wales or Scotland (unless some hitch in Brexit demands MEPs . . . ) so what should Labour stand on in its ‘Manifesto for England”? Here’s a few thoughts:

  • Labour recognises the importance of non-urban areas in re-building a successful future for the country.
  • Labour recognises the individual, varied and particular nature of much of England, and will act to protect it.
  • Labour will re-nationalise and regulate all of England’s bus services.
  • Labour values district and local health services and will work to extend services offered as we protect the NHS.

LCC is working with the Party to create a ‘How to / collective knowledge guide’ for circulation to all those who might need it – so keep in touch, sign up, support and contribute as best befits your circumstances!

Hywel Lloyd | Co-Founder, LCC

That’s Tory territory, isn’t it? | Sandy Martin MP

When I challenged the Secretary of State to provide more resources for the Police in Suffolk in September, Sarah Newton, the junior minister, clearly mis-heard “Southwark” for “Suffolk” and replied that it was all the fault of Sadiq Khan.

Leaving aside the blatant buck-passing that was going on, it is obvious that the Minister was conditioned to believe that Labour MPs come from London, or from “oop North”, or from Wales – anywhere but the Shire Counties.  Tragically, far too often the Labour Party appears to fall into the same trap.

The fact is, we need to be able to win in Shire Counties – constituencies such as St Albans and Norwich North depend on their County Councils for much of their public spending and thus for the residents’ experience of government.  It is no coincidence, I believe, that the extraordinary County Council election result in 1993 which left the Conservatives in England in control of just one single County – Buckinghamshire – led on to a General Election where Labour won seats that it had never even contemplated.

Labour has a vision of society which should work in rural areas.  We believe in public transport.  We believe in public education, in a decent health service, in properly resourced police services.  All of these things matter to people in rural areas just as much as they do in urban areas.  And in addition, we have a view of small businesses and of protection of the environment which does not start from the bottom line of the company accounts, but from the needs of the people.

For too long the Labour Party has projected a corporatist image which quite rightly supports the needs of trade unionists working in large institutions but ignores the needs of small and micro businesses and in particular of sole traders.  Unlike the Conservative Party, Labour does not need to pander to the needs of multi-national corporations as we do not receive any significant amount in donations from them.  Unlike the Conservative Party, Labour has a commitment to fairness which can and should extend to the self-employed as well as to public sector and industrial sector workers.  And unlike the Conservative Party, we do not have an obsession with privatisation which leads services which should be delivered at the point of need to be instead profiled to maximise the profits of the contractor.

Housing, for instance, makes more profits for developers in greenfield locations, and if designed and built to cater for wealthy retired people.  Thus we have the paradox of disproportionate levels of building in very small towns, virtually none of which actually caters for the needs of local people. Conservative Councils are relatively good at maintaining roads in rural areas, but completely useless at maintaining bus services to run along them.  And while Conservative areas tend to attract the highest number of Free Schools, these are very often designed to please a minority of the local population – the “we don’t want our child mixing with the kids from the estate” mentality.

On all of these issues, Labour can and must win if we are to take back control of many of our Shire County Councils, convince the local voters that we are capable of winning and that we have a genuine alternative programme that can work for them, and ultimately win all those seats we need in the Shire Counties in a General Election in order to form a Labour Government.

Off the Beaten Tracks

A recent study by Labour has warned that more than 30 million miles of bus journeys have been lost to cuts, leaving many people and communities isolated. And it is Britain’s rural areas that are hit worst. The Labour frontbench’s excellent new shadow secretary of state for transport, Michael Dugher, claims that vital rural routes have been the first to suffer from coalition transport cuts, which is further exacerbated by the 25 per cent increase in bus fares since 2010 – a rise five times higher than wages.

To be completely frank, those of us living in rural areas could have told anybody this without recourse to an expensive study. Indeed, this is something that I can personally vouch for: until relatively recently I was a long-term unemployed young person living in the Norfolk countryside. In this situation, access to areas of opportunity was all-important to my prospects of finding gainful employment. I was, however, enormously held back by public transport deficiencies – partly brought about by budget cuts, with poor planning also being a problem. Due to these deficiencies, a number of important local areas of employment were difficult to get to or back from. As a result, I could not physically get to numerous potential jobs, even though they were within my officially designated job search area. Indeed, the journey to the job centre itself was a round-trip of 30 miles, with the work programme an even bigger commute of 50 miles there and back by public buses. This was uncomfortable, time-consuming and very expensive for someone living on £70 a week.

With the public transport cuts brought about by the coalition government, numerous communities, up and down the United Kingdom, find themselves cut off and isolated. Anna Turley, the brilliant parliamentary candidate for Redcar, has highlighted the plight of a woman named Jean who she met one morning on a doorstep session in the village of Lazenby. She was waiting for a taxi to take her to her GP. It soon became clear to Anna that there was now no bus service operating in the village at all, leaving many residents who were not able, or could not afford to learn, to drive either reliant on expensive taxis – eating in to already limited pensions or insufficient minimum wages – or be left stranded.

It is instances such a this that make Labour’s announcement on the re-regulation of bus services in the provinces – until now a privilege only benefiting Londoners, who would surely be dismayed if their buses were run the way most people’s are – absolutely vital and very welcome to beleaguered non-urban communities. For Lazenby, the Arriva bus service, which holds a near-monopoly on services in Redcar and Cleveland, cut the route and were completely unaccountable to the public, despite pressure from local councillors.

Labour’s commitment to re-regulate bus services outside London will give the regions more control over their public transport systems. In this way, the isolation felt by the village of Lazenby, or my own difficulty accessing areas of opportunity, will not be repeated.

While this is good, it almost goes without saying that a Labour government’s public transport reforms must go further if it is to alleviate the pressure felt by people in coast and country areas and form a recovery that benefits the many rather than just a few.

This is something that Labour: Coast & Country’s first publication, Off the Beaten Tracks, has attempted to highlight and champion within the Labour movement:

Community transport initiatives, such as Wigtownshire Community Transport in south-west Scotland, offers a good example of alternative schemes that help alleviate rural isolation. The WCT is innovative in that it makes use of council, and even NHS, vehicles during their downtime, making their use more efficient. Overall, the WCT – and other similar initiatives highlighted in Off the Beaten Tracks – represents an important lifeline for the non-urban communities it serves.

Bwcabus, funded by the European Union, in the Vale of Glamorgan, operates on demand and provides a flexible service through ‘dynamic scheduling’ – a schedule that reacts and changes according to daily variations in demand. As such, it is a bus service with no set timetable.

This system of ‘dynamic scheduling’ makes use of sophisticated technology, incorporating satellite communication and a computerised scheduling and booking module. This effectively enables residents to call the service at least three hours before the journey to book a bus. The booking is then added to the route, scheduled and printed. Bwcabus has been in service for five years and has gone from strength to strength in that time. It has also been very well received locally, gaining 100 per cent satisfaction ratings for the quality of the service. There has also been a staggering 40 per cent increase in public transport use in the area.

While the technology is advanced and this project has thus far been limited to one area, we must ask why similar systems con not be rolled-out across different parts of the UK. I would urge the Labour party to bring this Welsh innovation in to consideration.

Off the Beaten Tracks also advocates the avoidance of siloed approaches to transport in favour of the creation of integrated transport systems. Effectively, this would remove the command and control influence of Westminster from bus and other transport services in Coast & Country areas, and bring decision-making down to individual communities. It is perhaps best described as the ‘common sense’ approach, with councils, bus, train and other transport coming together to design mutually beneficial services, creating something truly joined up and integrated. As a result, bus services would work in time with train times; public transport would be routed to provide access to public service, like healthcare; and long-term planning can be introduced to local transport concerns.

Ultimately, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of good transport links – of physical connectivity and access to goods, services, healthcare, employment, entertainment – to rural communities and people. I would even describe transport as one of Britain’s great social and economic equalisers. In communities where these necessities of life, aspiration and care cannot be accessed by all people, then inequality and poverty inevitably follows. This is what the Tories’ ‘austerity transport’ has reduced many communities to, and what the Labour party must fight to reverse and better.

Labour needs a revolution in its thinking and approach to public transport if Britain is to get the transport infrastructure it needs.

Jack Eddy is national coordinator for Labour: Coast & Country and an executive committee member of the Labour Transport Group | @NorfolkJackEddy

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Labour: Coast & Country.