Boris Johnson heckled during speech on northern transport

PM told to ‘sort out the mess’ as he pledges to give mayors London-style rail powers

Boris Johnson has promised to give elected mayors in the north of England “London-style” powers to take control of their railways, in a speech interrupted by a heckler who told him to get back to parliament to “sort out the mess you created”.

Johnson said mayors would be given generous budgets in order to run their own local railways, in a similar way as he was able to take control of the overground in London when he was mayor.

Mayors “are always going to care far more about their trains and trams than someone in Whitehall”, he told the Convention of the North, a conference organised by the NP11, which represents the north’s 11 local enterprise partnerships. “Only local champions can really make a difference to their local towns and communities,” he said.

The event took place at the Magna science centre in Rotherham. Johnson was taken to task by a reporter from the local newspaper for his remarks on LBC radio about police forces “spaffing money up the wall” investigating historical child abuse allegations. “Is that something you still believe in relation to historic investigations of CSE [child sexual exploitation]?” the Rotherham Advertiser reporter asked.

Johnson appeared to deny making the remarks, despite them being recorded and broadcast on LBC. “That’s actually not what I said,” he replied. “All such investigations are extremely important and the point I was making is we do need to be backing police to be fighting crime.”

The National Crime Agency has more than 200 people investigating allegations of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, making it the largest such inquiry in the UK. It had a budget last year of just under £12m and is seeking to increase this as it works toward recruiting a staff of 250.

Johnson was heckled during his speech by a member of the public when he said that as a former mayor he understood the power of “local, accountable leadership to sort out what matters most to local people”.

“Like our MPs, Boris … Maybe get back to parliament … sort out the mess you created,” yelled a man from the back of the hall, shortly before being ejected by security guards.

Johnson was also confronted by a woman in Doncaster. “People have died because of austerity and you’ve got the cheek to come here and tell us austerity is over and it’s all good now, we’re going to leave the EU and everything’s going to be great,” she said. “It’s just a fairytale.”

Johnson said the north of England was poorly served by trains compared with London, and noted that it had taken him just over an hour and a half to get to Doncaster from London on Friday morning.

“But if, for example, you travelled from Liverpool to Rotherham, less than half the distance, you might have had to leave an hour earlier than me and change as many as three times,” he said.

“Your journey may have been on two and three-carriage trains, some of them built in the early 1980s with a body designed for a bus with bus seats too. I love buses but not when they are supposed to be trains. It’s time for the north to run its own trains.”

Johnson promised greater control over fares, service patterns, rolling stock and stations on local lines in metropolitan areas, and opportunities for rural communities to own their own lines.

Mayors such as Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester have long demanded change in the way railways in their areas are managed. After the speech, Burnham said the pledge would allow him to create “GM Rail” to connect better with the bus and tram network in the city, as Transport for London was able to in the capital.

“It is what we have been calling for, but we have got to make sure it comes with the funding that we will need and all of the powers we need,” he said.

Johnson promised the mayors that the government would “be generous on capital spending, but we won’t be able to afford everything everyone wants, so choices will have to be made”.

He said they might have to raise some of their own funds, but it was unclear whether they would do this by increasing council tax or fares. Burnham repeated his call for “London-style subsidies” for rail, bus and tram passengers in the north.

Steve Rotheram, the mayor of the Liverpool city region, who already controls Merseyrail, the most punctual line in England, said he also welcomed the idea but needed to be sure the government would provide the necessary indemnification in case of major infrastructure failure.

“If we had a major tunnel collapse for example, that would bankrupt the whole city region if we had to fix it,” he said.

Johnson told the mayors: “As you have asked, we will give you far greater control over your budgets. But as well as power, you have to take responsibility. That means alongside taking the credit you will have to take the heat, just like the mayor has to do in London. No one blames the government for the problems on the Central line. They blame the mayor.”


Helen Pidd North of England editor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Transport spending in London still twice northern England's
Report says despite ‘northern powerhouse’ plan, gap in spending is widening

Helen Pidd North of England editor

20, Nov, 2018 @6:15 PM

Article image
Boris Johnson’s rail plan: what’s in it and what was promised
Details of the integrated rail plan, which has caused anger in the north of England and Midlands

Gwyn Topham Transport correspondent

18, Nov, 2021 @12:58 PM

Article image
Chris Grayling accused of 'passing the buck' on northern transport
Minister’s call for region to sort out its own transport problems is an abdication of responsibility, northern leaders say

Helen Pidd North of England editor

23, Aug, 2017 @2:28 PM

Article image
London to get triple northern England's transport spending, says thinktank
Research by IPPR north challenges government promises on investment in the north

Maya Wolfe-Robinson

18, Aug, 2019 @11:01 PM

Article image
Can we have our home back? HS2 U-turn leaves uprooted family reeling
The government has provided another twist in the farcical saga of Mexborough’s Shimmer estate

Helen Pidd North of England editor

18, Nov, 2021 @5:53 PM

Article image
Manchester may get high-speed rail before Leeds, HS2 minister suggests
Transport department confirms plan to split northern spurs of HS2 into two stages

Helen Pidd North of England editor

27, Feb, 2020 @5:47 PM

Article image
HS2 to go ahead, Boris Johnson tells MPs
Government backs high-speed rail line despite spiralling costs that could top £100bn

Rowena Mason, Gwyn Topham and Helen Pidd

11, Feb, 2020 @2:41 PM

Article image
Boris Johnson: cutting London transport spending would be insanity
London mayor says Crossrail shows importance of transport infrastructure spending, but coalition considered scrapping it

Gwyn Topham, transport correspondent

31, May, 2013 @1:16 PM

Article image
Northern England transport planners reject 'Noyster cards'
Transport for the North rules out use of ‘outdated’ smartcard ticketing, but aims to improve east-west links with trans-Pennine rail and road tunnel

Helen Pidd North of England editor

08, Feb, 2016 @6:00 AM

Article image
HS2 supporters fear Boris Johnson plans to scrap part of rail project
London to Birmingham leg thought to be in danger with speculation money might go to other northern transport

Rowena Mason Deputy political editor

15, Jan, 2020 @5:51 PM