I represent 23 rural villages in the heart of England. I live in one of them. They are great places to live and work. The villages and small towns of Great Britain historically were at the heart of our identity. But they are under pressure as never before.
They are under pressure because of a disconnected and remote Establishment ruling large parts of this country as though we were colonies to be administered from above rather than to be nurtured. And they are under pressure because of a misguided dogma as to how our economic and social life ought to be governed in the interests of the privileged group which makes up our governing class.
Key decisions made in – and for – London
There are only 12 Core Cities in Great Britain including London. But there are almost 1,000 medium and small towns. There are also 6,116 villages. The core cities are said to consist of 20 million people. That leaves 47 million Britons who live outside these big population centres.
Almost every key decision about how our country operates is made in London, usually by people whose life consists of living and working in the capital. It’s not great, is it?
Public transport least available for those who need it most
Take public transport. Buses for example. It is fascinating to work in London during the working week and in Yorkshire the rest of the time. Work used to be available locally. Now, it is rare to find sufficient job opportunities in the village where you live. The table below (from the House of Commons library) shows that the rural population travels further and more often than people who live in the cities.
It is self-evident then that there is a great need for a means of transport from home to work – and equally to leisure facilities. As the local stores and even the bank branches and post offices close, to be replaced by distant supermarkets, the situation is difficult. Yet, over the years, Westminster privatised the bus services – having first closed down many railway lines.
The social and economic consequences have created difficulties outside of London.
Essential bus services drastically cut
The Guardian reported as follows:
“Bus services have been cut by more than 80% in the past 15 years in some parts of England and Wales in a ‘silent war’ on users, research has found.
“Outside London, bus services plummeted by more than 60% in 80 local authority areas, the study added.”
The same report noted that “in urban areas outside the UK capital had an average of 14 buses an hour, whereas in London the hourly average was 120”. In the village where I live the situation is more typical for rural communities. The first bus doesn’t arrive until 8.58 and there are only nine others before 12.30.
The central purpose of the private operators who run the services is to avoid catastrophic losses. There is constant pressure on the operators to reduce sections of the service which they run in order to save money.
In order to understand the situation facing many people, it is important to understand that many people have no access to a car or van. According to the recent census, in the whole of West Yorkshire for example every single area has more than 20% of its households who have no access to a vehicle. This leaves about 200,000 households without a car or van.
For those who do own vehicles, the situation is often nightmarish with increasingly congested streets. The daily commute to work or the weekly trip to the shops takes longer and the air we all breathe is more polluted.
“The market knows best”: an ideological myth
In a well-ordered world, where decisions were made for the wider population and in the interests of the planet, public transport would be modern, clean, regular and efficient. The staff would be well remunerated, and the service would be social in character.
But this would mean that the top-down culture which has ruled Britain for too long would be abandoned. And the ideological myth that the market knows best would be recognised for what it is – a dogma to suit wealthy shareholders and big business at the expense of the wonderful communities which are the backbone of our country.
This would mean a major rupture with the way we have been governed for decades. In the meantime, we can and must do something about the situation in the here and now.
Campaigning for local control of bus services
In Manchester and Liverpool, the buses are back under the control of the elected mayor. Other areas are pursuing the same objective.
Here in West Yorkshire, the campaigning organisation We Own It is working to ensure that our elected mayor gains the same control over our bus services. West Yorkshire’s mayor, Tracy Brabin, is consulting on plans to use the mayor’s new powers by taking buses into public control, also called bus franchising.
That’d mean most decisions about the network (fares/routes/standards) being made by people elected locally, not private bus company shareholders: putting people and planet over profit.
The consultation ends on Sunday, and you can submit your support through We Own It by a click of a button here.