Preston used ‘Corbynomics’ to change its fortune. Now other cities are doing the same

Blue skies over Preston bus station. Image: Ilike/Flickr/creative commons.

I am sure they are an estimable bunch, but Preston Council are not the locomotive of the UK economy. We Conservatives know that it is only a strong private sector economy that can pay for superb public services.

When Boris Johnson scoffed at the idea of Preston being an example of economic success, at a fringe meeting during the most recent Conservative Party conference, he couldn’t have guessed that barely a month later PwC and Demos would independently assess Preston as being the most improved city in the UK in 2018.

Among other improvements, according to their report, “Preston has experienced a large reduction in its unemployment rate, measured at 3.1 per cent in 2017 compared to 6.5 per cent in 2014.”

In Preston, several factors fell onto place at once, leading to positive change that was part planned, part felicitous. Inspired by the Cleveland model, the council visited local “anchor institutions” – institutions that are rooted in Preston, such as the housing association, the university and so on – and persuaded them to spend more money locally. The results were spectacular: local procurement increased by £74m in under five years.

Then, inspired by Mondragon – an international business organisation established by a group of cooperatives, which began soon after the Spanish Civil War – the council set up a framework organisation called the Preston Cooperative Development Network (PCDN), of which I am the Chair. The PCDN encourages business people to create worker-owned co-operatives, and helps them to network. The Preston Model is work in progress, yet the council has achieved a lot in relatively little time. Here are four of the factors which led to its success.

1. Adversity

The collapse of major retail investment into Preston soon after the financial crash of 2008 left the city with nothing: no money, no faith in a failing system and no alternative regeneration scheme. New ideas sometimes emerge out of necessity, and this was one of them.

2. Leadership

At the same time, Preston City Council had the good fortune to enjoy the leadership of an energetic councillor, Matthew Brown. Brown has been a councillor since 2002. He then became Cabinet Member for Social Justice, Inclusion, and Policy, and now is leader of the council.

Frustrated by the dire economic and social prospects for Preston, Brown set about scouring the world for alternative solutions for Preston, while simultaneously improving the local area. For example, it’s because of Brown that Preston City Council was one of the first councils in the UK to introduce the living wage.

3. Corbyn’s Labour party

Councillor Brown’s ideas might never have seen the light of day without the interest and ultimately the backing of Corbyn’s Labour party. In particular, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell took a proactive interest, and was instrumental in setting up a Labour Party Community Wealth Building Unit, inspired by the Preston Model.

This has helped to develop ideas – such as generating and retaining local wealth through local procurement and employee ownership schemes – which have the potential to become Labour Party policy.

4. Research, advice and consultation

The council was forward thinking and creative in its approach, and so agreed to fund the Centre for Local Economic Strategy (CLES) and the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) to advise councillors and council officers on ways of executing their ideas. CLES and UCLan provided both practical advice and reports to support the council’s Community Wealth Building project.

Can it work elsewhere?

According to Councillor Matthew Brown, aspects of the Preston Model are already being applied elsewhere in the UK, partly as a result of media attention and partly as a Labour Party strategy for about 50 local authorities currently governed by Labour. After Preston, perhaps the most advanced in this kind of strategy is Birmingham.

At least eight London councils are actively pursuing some of the ideas arising from the Preston model, and there has been interest from the National Assembly for Wales and the Scottish Government.


There is often a certain scepticism about economic and social change, and the case of the Preston Model is no exception. There is talk of protectionism, a fear that perhaps the economy will become less efficient and concerns that localism will collapse, when faced with a need to expand beyond the borders of Preston.

Sometimes, people ask me what it is about Preston itself that accounts for its success (and possibly, therefore, for the difficulty of exporting the model elsewhere). This is the same question that is asked of the Mondragon co-operatives in the Basque Country, since the Mondragon experience has proven difficult to export to other countries.

But change is in the air, as popular economists such as Yanis Varoufakis and Thomas Piketty have forewarned. Journalists such as Paul Mason talk of a “post-capitalist” future. Meanwhile, academics Pickett and Wilkinson critique the social value of growth and Kate Raworth’s “doughnut economics” suggests that there’s a safe and just space for humanity, where no one falls short of life’s essentials and the ecology of the planet is not compromised by rampant consumerism.

The desire for change is part of the energy of the Preston Model. It’s not just about local money. It’s about participating in democracy as cooperative structures demand, it’s about citizenship and pride of place. Anchor institutions opt to spend more locally, in part because procurement officers and the institutions they represent feel all these things. And these things don’t belong to Preston alone.

The Conversation

Julian Manley, Research Fellow, University of Central Lancashire.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

What other British cities can learn from the Tyne & Wear Metro

A Metro train at Monument. Image: Callum Cape/Wikipedia.

Ask any person on the street what they know about Newcastle, and they’ll list a few things. They’ll mention the accent; they’ll mention the football; they’ll mention brown ale and Sting and Greggs. They might even mention coal or shipbuilding, and then the conversation will inevitably turn political, and you’ll wish you hadn’t stopped to ask someone about Newcastle at all.

They won’t, however, mention the Tyne and Wear Metro, because they haven’t probably heard of it – which is a shame, because the Metro is one of the best things the north-east has to offer.

Two main issues plague suburban trains. One is frequency. Suburban rail networks often run on poor frequency; to take Birmingham for an example, most of its trains operate at 30-minute intervals.

The other is simplicity. Using Birmingham again, the entire system is built around New Street, leading to a very simple network. Actually, that’s not quite true: if you’re coming from Leamington Spa, Warwick, Stourbridge, Solihull or a host of other major minor (minor major?) towns, you don’t actually connect to New Street – no, you don’t even connect to the ENTIRE SYSTEM BUILT AROUND NEW STREET except at Smethwick Galton Bridge, miles away in the western suburbs, where the physical tracks don’t even connect – they pass over each other. Plus, what on earth is the blue line to Walsall doing?

An ageing map of the West Midlands rail network: click any of the images in this article to expand them. Image: Transport for the West Midlands/Centro.

But Newcastle has long been a hub of railway activity. Tragically, the north-east has fewer active railway lines than any other region of the UK. Less tragically, this is because Tyne and Wear has the Metro.


The Metro was formed in 1980 from a somewhat eccentric collection of railways, including freight-only lines, part of the old Tyneside Electrics route, underground tunnelling through the city centre, track-sharing on the National Rail route to Sunderland, and lines closed after the Beeching axe fell in the early 1960s.

From this random group of railway lines, the Metro has managed to produce a very simple network of two lines. Both take a somewhat circuitous route, the Yellow line especially, because it’s literally a circle for much of its route; but they get to most of the major population centres. And frequency is excellent – a basic 5 trains an hour, with 10 tph on the inner core, increasing at peak times (my local station sees 17 tph each way in the morning peak).

Fares are simple, too: there are only three zones, and they’re generally good value, whilst the Metro has been a national leader in pay-as-you-go technology (PAYG), with a tap-in, tap-out system. The Metro also shares many characteristics of European light rail systems – for example, it uses the metric system (although this will doubtless revert to miles and chains post-Brexit, whilst fares will be paid in shillings).

 

The Metro network. Image: Nexus.

Perhaps most importantly, the Metro has been the British pioneer for the Karlsruhe model, in which light rail trains share tracks with mainline services. This began in 2002 with the extension to Sunderland, and, with new bi-mode trains coming in the next ten years, the Metro could expand further around the northeast. The Sheffield Supertram also recently adopted this model with its expansion to Rotherham; other cities, like Manchester, are considering similar moves.

However, these cities aren’t considering what the Metro has done best – amalgamated local lines to allow people to get around a city easily. Most cities’ rail services are focused on those commuters who travel in from outside, instead of allowing travel within a city; there’s no coherent system of corridors allowing residents to travel within the limits of a city.

The Metro doesn’t only offer lessons to big cities. Oxford, for example, currently has dire public transport, focused on busy buses which share the same congested roads as private vehicles; the city currently has only two rail stations near the centre (red dots).

Image: Google.

But it doesn’t need to be this way. For a start, Oxford is a fairly lateral city, featuring lots of north-south movements, along broadly the same route the railway line follows. So, using some existing infrastructure and reinstating other parts, Oxford’s public transport could be drastically improved. With limited engineering work, new stations could be built on the current track (blue dots on the map below; with more extensive work, the Cowley branch could be reinstated, too (orange dots). Electrify this new six-station route and, hey presto, Oxford has a functioning metro system; the short length of the route also means that few trains would be necessary for a fequent service.

Image: Google.

Next up: Leeds. West Yorkshire is a densely populated area with a large number of railway lines. Perfect! I hear you cry. Imperfect! I cry in return. Waaaaaah! Cry the people of Leeds, who, after two cancelled rapid transit schemes, have had enough of imaginative public transport projects.

Here’s a map of West Yorkshire:

Image: Google.

Here’s a map of West Yorkshire’s railway network:

 ​

Image: West Yorkshire Metro.

The problem is that all of the lines go to major towns, places like Dewsbury, Halifax or Castleford, which need a mainline connection due to their size. Options for a metro service are limited.

But that’s not to say they’re non-existent. For example, the Leeds-Bradford Interchange line passes through densely populated areas; and anyway, Bradford Interchange is a terminus, so it’s poorly suited to service as a through station, as it’s currently being used.

Image: Google.

With several extra stops, this line could be converted to a higher frequency light rail operation. It would then enter an underground section just before Holbeck; trains from Halifax could now reach Leeds via the Dewsbury line. The underground section would pass underneath Leeds station, therefore freeing up capacity at the mainline station, potentially simplifying the track layout as well.

 

Image: Google.

Then you have the lines from Dewsbury and Wakefield, which nearly touch here:

Image: Google.

By building a chord, services from Morley northwards could run into Leeds via the Wakefield line, leaving the Dewsbury line north of Morley open for light rail operation, probably with an interchange at the aforementioned station.

Image: Google.

The Leeds-Micklefield section of the Leeds-York line could also be put into metro service, by building a chord west of Woodlesford over the River Aire and connecting at Neville Hill Depot (this would involve running services from York and Selby via Castleford instead):

The path of the proposed chord, in white. Image: Google.

With a section of underground track in Leeds city centre, and an underground line into the north-east of Leeds – an area completely unserved by rail transport at present – the overall map could look like this, with the pink and yellow dots representing different lines:

Et voila! Image: Google.

Leeds would then have a light-rail based public transport system, with potential for expansion using the Karlsruhe model. It wouldn’t even be too expensive, as it mainly uses existing infrastructure. (Okay, the northeastern tunnel would be pricey, but would deliver huge benefits for the area.)

Why aren’t more cities doing this? Local council leaders often talk about introducing “metro-style services” – but they avoid committing to real metro projects because they’re more expensive than piecemeal improvements to the local rail system, and they’re often more complex to deliver (with the lack of space in modern-day city centres, real metro systems need tunnels).

But metro systems can provide huge benefits to cities, with more stops, a joined-up network, and simpler fares. More cities should follow the example of the Tyne and Wear Metro.