Local Devolution

In the nineties I started the UK's first-ever localist think tank, the Local Identity Agency. Indeed, I have spent most of my adult life arguing that our regions need the power to shape their own destiny. To drive a renaissance in our towns and cities, we need to let local areas make their own decisions. Whether launching a new model of regional rail, raising infrastructure bonds or reshaping local health services, the possibilities are unlimited. The era of Whitehall-knows-best is well and truly gone. To let our regions thrive, we must also let them decide.

Here are two of my big ideas:

  • Regional Rail. For too long our rail services have been too slow, too costly and too inefficient. That's why we need to move from national franchises to giving consumers more control over the services they use. By reintegrating the track and Train Operating Companies, we could build regional rail companies at scale which local communities could invest in. 
  • Mayoral Infrastructure Bonds & Social Impact Bonds. Our political system is over-centralised, with decisions still handed down from Whitehall. Now is the time to liberate our great local leaders and allow the people on the ground to make decisions. By letting local Mayors raise infrastructure bonds, we can transform local infrastructure investment at a stroke, creating new jobs and opportunities up and down our country.

Background

Five years ago in 2013, in an essay for a think tank, I argued that we would never build a 21st Century economy on 19th Century infrastructure. Instead, I argued that we needed to unleash a revolution in the way we financed infrastructure, particularly for our rail network, applying some of the core principles of the Victorian builders, and looking at how we might unlock a wave of modern infrastructure investment based on the enlightened self-interest of local business and communities.

The essay focused around several key ideas about how this vision could be achieved. First, the creation of a brand-new rail company, bringing together local civic leaders and businesses and giving communities a stake in the future of their local rail network. Second, the importance of connecting up our major centres of research, helping support UK science and innovation. And, third, the necessity of integrating the companies operating the tracks and the trains, separate since the railways were privatised. Only with all three reforms, I argued, could we hope to unlock a truly 21st Century rail network that supported UK innovation.

Because of this, I continue to make the case for an East Anglian Railway Company: a new body controlling both track and trains, with the ability to raise additional private investment to improve our network.

Links to coverage of my work in this space:

New Statesman 26.09.16 “Theresa May's big thinker - an interview with George Freeman.”

The Times 04.10.17 “Conservatives need to give people a vision they can believe in.”