Road pricing rejected in Manchester referendum

Again, the joys of direct democracy.

Despite attempts to bribe Mancunians into adopting an englarged version of London’s congestion charge, as the first step in making drivers pay to use roads across the country, the promise of hundreds of millions of pounds of investment could not win a majority.

A large majority of Greater Manchester’s electors voted against the regressive scheme, a pet project of New Labour which was unwisely supported by the Green Party because of the investment in public transport.

The Guardian reports:

In a referendum, the proposal was defeated by a majority of 4 to 1, meaning there is now little chance of a pay-as-you-drive scheme being introduced for at least a decade. Sir Neil McIntosh, the returning officer, said 1.03m votes were received – a response rate of 53.2%.

Of those, 79% were against.

Voters were unimpressed by the promise of £1.5bn of government money for public transport, and 10,000 extra jobs created by the construction of tram lines and improved buses and trains. Instead, the public appeared to regard it as an extra tax for motorists, which would cost individuals up to £1,200 a year.

The result is an embarrassment to the government, which created a £2bn fund dedicated to supporting local charging schemes. The fund is likely to be reallocated to other projects or become a victim of budget cuts.

The city’s yes campaign may not have been helped by the decision of Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, to abolish the western extension of the capital’s charging zone. It is expected that other cities that had been considering schemes, including Cambridge, Bristol and Leeds, will abandon their plans.

Labour politicians in Manchester had worked closely with ministers at the Department for Transport to try to convince voters. A vitriolic campaign was fought between the yes and no camps.

Had it gone ahead, the charge would have been introduced in 2013, by which time 80% of the public transport improvements would have been completed. There would also have been discounts for the low-paid and exemptions for parts of the city that had to wait longer for improvements.

Motorists would have paid to cross two charging rings during the morning and evening rush hours. The outer ring roughly followed the orbital M60, while the inner ring surrounded the city centre.

Graham Stringer, MP for Manchester Blackley, who opposed the charge, said: “I am delighted with the result. It’s a brave politician that goes forward with such a scheme, unless it is an extraordinarily good scheme that virtually everybody benefits from.”

He said the result showed there was hostility to road charging: “You have to come up with an extremely good scheme whereby you reduce other road taxes if you ever want road pricing by consent in this country.”

Stringer said it was a pity that three years had been wasted on the “ill thought out” scheme. He said officials must now go back to the government to talk about how they can invest in trams, trains and buses for Greater Manchester.

For more information, check out the Campaign for Free Public Transport website.

Drop the dead dogma – privatisation isn’t efficient or cheap!

Two items from Tribune on health and education show that New Labour are far from burying the failed neo-liberal model.

First, healthcare:

UNISON has urged the government to rethink its whole approach to NHS reforms in the wake of a damning new report on the cost of commissioning and outsourcing in the health service.

The public sector union has called on the Secretary of State for Health, Alan Johnson, to concentrate on giving NHS patients the care they need and deserve – as well as ensuring the taxpayer gets real value for money – rather than using health service reforms as a smokescreen to outsource or privatise services and “throw precious money away to the private sector”.

The call comes in the wake of a hard-hitting new report – called Driven by Dogma – from the Office for Public Management. In a damning verdict it says outsourcing in the NHS has failed to deliver value for money, proper patient involvement or improved working conditions for staff.

The Government’s pre-Budget report made much of the potential efficiency savings to be made by the NHS from shared service operations with the private sector. But first hand evidence in the new report, examining the experience of those commissioning and delivering services, reveals that promised cost benefits have failed to materialise and quality has suffered.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “At a time when finances are increasingly tight, the NHS cannot afford to be throwing precious money away to the private sector and wasting time and resources on the complexity of the commissioning process.

“Patients want more involvement in decision-making and staff want to spend more time on providing excellent patient care rather than tendering for contracts.

“Unfortunately, this report shows that the various reforms to outsource or privatise parts of the NHS are working against these goals.”

The union says there are realistic alternatives – Scotland has recently announced it will no longer permit any contract cleaning and Wales has done away with the purchaser-provider split in favour of a more sensible and user-friendly integrated system.

Second, education:

TRADE unions have hit out at plans by the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills to privatise parts of the schools inspection service.

According to a leaked memo, Ofsted intends to outsource inspections of early education and childcare provision early next year.

It says privatising early years inspections – which ensure nurseries, pre-school provision, summer play schemes and childminding services are safe and secure and meet educational standards – will “provide better outcomes and save money” but Unison, the PCS and the FDA senior civil servants’ union say the idea is wrong is principle and bad in practice.

Unison national officer Jon Richards said: “It is outrageous that Ofsted is privatising early years inspections. Parents need to have confidence in the inspection system and know their children are safe and will be well cared for.

“There is a very real danger that jobs will go and the quality of inspections will fall if the focus shifts from raising and maintaining standards to cutting costs and making a profit.

“The decision to privatise inspections has serious implications for staff, parents and children.”

PCS national officer Neil March said: “Introducing the profit motive into inspections, combined with the naive belief that ‘the market’ has all the answers, will end in failure and further demoralise dedicated staff. It will lead to corners being cut and a loss of expertise.”

The unions think Ofsted wants to “wash its hands” of staff. Mr Richards said: “It has hundreds of equal pay cases outstanding and this is a crude attempt to deal with the problem as the workers pursuing these claims will be the ones to go.”