The speech made by Max Madden, the then Labour MP for West Bradford, in the House of Commons on 26 November 1985.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to discuss Bradford’s rail services. To understand the mounting concern in Bradford about rail services it is necessary to explain the city’s unemployment crisis, the efforts that are being made to regenerate the city’s economy and the city’s anxiety about resources being deployed with a wrong sense of direction and priority.
The jobs crisis is massive. During the period 1961 to 1978, manufacturing industry in Bradford lost 54,000 jobs, 45,000 of them in textiles alone. Between 1978 and 1981 a further 23,000 jobs in manufacturing industry were lost, 16,000 of them in textiles. The rate of unemployment has increased from 2 per cent. in 1974 to 16 per cent. in 1985, and 35,000 men and women are desperately looking for work. Wage levels remain well below the regional and national averages. The result is that millions of pounds have been taken out of the pockets of the men and women of Bradford and the rates revenue of the local authority has rapidly diminished.
Car ownership in Bradford is very low. Only half of the families in the district own a car. There is substantial poverty and extensive deprivation. But the people of Bradford have a gritty independence. They want to help themselves. However, they are rapidly coming to the conclusion that although the Government have offered support to enable the people of Bradford to help themselves their help is inadequate.
It is not being provided with the sense of urgency and commitment that the people of Bradford believe to be necessary. We have seen the city council, which is the city’s largest employer, losing millions in rate support grant and paying millions to the Government in rate penalty. We have seen the university, the city’s second biggest employer, suffering extensive cuts in 1981 and having to pay for substantial redundancies, and we have seen other unacceptable consequences as a result of those cuts, which are estimated to have taken another £6 million out of the local economy. All these pressures have led to extensive efforts being made by the city employers and others to diversify, to compensate for the losses experienced by manufacturing industry, by expansion of the service employment, especially in tourism.
Transport services are obviously of vital importance to the city, and this concern led Bradford council and British Rail to enter a joint review of inter-city services and to issue a joint report recently. The report highlighted the importance of transport, particularly rail services to Bradford, and the extensive and mounting concern about the future of our rail services in the city.
The chamber of commerce, trade unions, including the Transport and General Workers Union, by which I am sponsored, the Confederation of British Industry and many others, have stressed the importance that they attach to improving the transport services. The CBI, at its annual conference recently in Harrogate, devoted a considerable amount of time urging the Government to spend more on public works of all sorts, and there were numerous references to the need to improve transport services.
Bradford should have one of the best rail services in Britain, and should not be condemned to having one of the worst. Bradfordians using public transport, including rail services to work, business or pleasure are entitled to services that are reasonably priced, comfortable and convenient. Sadly, this is not the case today, and unless the Government intervene, the prospects are that Bradfordians will be asked to pay higher fares for an increasingly third class service.
It would be ludicrous for the line between Bradford and Leeds not to be electrified when the line between Leeds and the east coast main line is to be electrified, we hope by 1989. The investment for that electrification amounts to more than £300 million. The Government must find a way to give British Rail the £4 million that it needs to electrify the Bradford to Leeds line. The Government must ensure that British Rail expands the direct inter-city service between Bradford and London, which is now worse than it was 20 years ago.
The joint report prepared by Bradford city council and BR, commenting on inter-city services, said that 10 years ago there were five through trains from Bradford to London, and six in the opposite direction. Now, there are three in each direction, all via Leeds.
“It is unfortunate … that the Inter City service to and from London is worse in 1985 than it was in 1965. Industrialists comment about the length of time it takes to get from London to Bradford when a change has to be made at Leeds. They also criticise the scruffy, slow and often crowded nature of the link between Leeds and Bradford. Conferences are being, and have been lost because of the declining rail service between Bradford and London. Most tourists come by coach or car … Journey time, comfort and convenience by rail from London particularly, are important for many new and developing industries. At the present time, Bradford is at a great disadvantage. Decision makers and investors will not be attracted to Bradford if it becomes the largest city in the country without an Inter City rail service, or if it retains the worst Inter City rail service of any of the top six metropolitan districts in the country.”
That is a succinct description of the concern in Bradford about rail services and particularly about the inter-city service.
Over the years, the declining rail service has had spinoff effects on other services. The Bradford post and telecom advisory committee wrote recently to a senior executive at the Post Office expressing concern that Bradford had been excluded from the new dedicated intercity transport service, which will be operating between the main cities of this country. The letter said:
“We have recently reached the stage where the 19.43 Bradford/Kings Cross train has been withdrawn and vans are having to be sent to Sheffield and York to catch trains there. This means that the evening posting time has had to be advanced in some districts by at least half an hour. This causes tremendous inconvenience to the business community who would normally be posting between 5.00 and 5.30 pm and who how have to get their mail to the Post Office before 5.00 pm.
We find it difficult to understand why Bradford has been excluded from the new service, yet Leeds with a far better transport network has been included. Surely it would be preferable to include in the dedicated service those large cities which are suffering from a poor network.”
I raised the issue recently with a Department of Trade and Industry Minister and I regret very much that he gave me a dismissive and off-hand reply, saying that he was not prepared to raise the matter with the chairman of the Post Office.
The Government must take action to ensure that local rail services are maintained. The usual spiral of deteriorating services, leading to fewer passengers, trains being axed and lines being closed, must not be allowed.
There is also mounting concern about services to Keighley and Ilkley, and it is a genuine based anxiety. Clear assurances must be given by the Government. They must take action to ensure that those services are not only maintained, but improved.
The Government must recognise the vital importance of all transport services and do everything possible to find the money necessary to maintain and improve Bradford’s services. The city council has suggested that we need an interdepartmental Government task force, representing the Departments of Transport, the Environment and Trade and Industry to ensure a joint Government approach so that our transport services, particularly the rail services, can be defended and improved.
Ministers visit Bradford fairly frequently, but not many travel by train and few experience the overcrowded, uncomfortable and inconvenient arrangements suffered by most passengers on trains from Leeds to Bradford. I urge the Under-Secretary to come to Bradford to meet the city council and discuss its proposals for ensuring that the Leeds-Bradford line is electrified, and its proposals for maintaining and improving the inter-city service. Such a visit would be welcomed by the council and would give the Minister some experience of conditions for passengers between London and Bradford.
Good transport, including a good modern rail service, is central to Bradford’s efforts in providing new jobs, encouraging existing firms to expand or new firms to come to Bradford and in attracting visitors to the city.
I end by quoting a good editorial in the Bradford Telegraph and Argus on 5 November:
“If short-term, cost-cutting economic factors are the sole consideration in deciding whether or not to keep open the nation’s main transport arteries, we are likely to end up with a few highly prosperous major cities, such as Leeds, surrounded by vast areas of neglect such as Bradford.
We believe it is time for the Government to take a longer-term, social view, before cities like ours are allowed to sink further into decline.” That view is generally held in Bradford, and the Minister can help to dispel it tonight. He can only hope to do so by promising action and cash. We are told that BR cannot electrify the line between Bradford and Leeds because of the stringent financial controls imposed by the Government, and that BR must show a proper rate of return on any investment made to proceed with that investment.
For those reasons and arguments, to give hope to Bradford, to give positive and practical help to back up the self-help it is already involved in, to try to overcome the unemployment crisis, and to help our efforts to revive our economy, I appeal to the Minister tonight to give clear assurances that he places the highest priority on ensuring that our rail and transport services are saved. That is what the people of Bradford want to hear. I hope that he can give those assurances in his reply.