Moving on Up
M is for Mayors, movement, MPs, and yes M People but this is the only appearance they will make in this blog and MPs I sort of dealt with yesterday. Today is the Annual Meeting of the City Council, a new Lord Mayor is installed, although, largely as an outcome of yesterday's events, I am only able to be present for the first ten minutes before I go off to meet Secretary of State for Transport, Geoff Hoon, the bearer of glad tidings. One of the other elections at the Annual Meeting is that of Leader of the Council, and I'm sure every reader of this will share my unbridled joy at being re-elected in my absence for another year.
I said yesterday that I would fill in the detail on yesterday's AGMA Executive meeting where unanimous agreement was reached on a £1.9billion transport package and on how we fund the first £1.5billion of it. This is a remarkable achievement given that just four days earlier we couldn't even agree the time and date of our next meeting (this is not giving away secrets as both meetings were open to the public).
I do want to pay tribute to officers from the Integrated Transport Authority (ITA) and the Passenger Transport Executive led by Howard Bernstein and David Leather who have worked tirelessly over the last six months to put this package together but also to politicians across Greater Manchester who have been able to thrash out differences and come to an agreement that benefits the conurbation as a whole. On Friday we looked like a shambles. By Tuesday we looked like a mature city-region leaders group, but I do have to say as a great supporter of openness and transparency that although all the decisions were made in public, much of the detail was, and could only have been, sorted out in private talks.
The detail! Following the collapse of TIF in December, we asked officers to reprioritise all the schemes in the TIF package on the basis of how much and how quickly they could contribute to economic growth and to jobs - pretty important in the current climate. We didn't have a plan B but out of the ruins of TIF we have been able to produce a new plan that will make a significant difference to transport in Greater Manchester but to do this, particularly in these timescales, would have been impossible without TIF which, if nothing else, provided us with a number of high quality schemes, with fully worked up business plans that have already satisfied Department for Transport and Treasury tests. We certainly don't get everything that TIF would have delivered. We don't get £1.5billion of government money and in this new plan everybody pays towards the local contribution, through the ITA levy (which feeds into Council Tax), whereas in TIF only the causers of congestion would have paid. It is still good news though with a range of tram, bus, rail, and road improvements including finishing Metrolink Big Bang - it is now back on track - which together will create 21,000 new jobs in Greater Manchester plus the construction jobs.
Where does government come in? The package needs Whitehall approval because it does include a big slab of central government money and what Geoff Hoon announces today is not only approval for the first £250m of "shovel ready " schemes, but also bringing forward £190m of government money from future years so we can get on with them this year.
All in all, a good day for Manchester !