Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin made her annual visit to a full meeting of Kirklees Council last week and spoke at length and answered questions from councillors.

Here’s what we learned:

  1. Ms Brabin believes West Yorkshire’s bus system is “broken” and needs to be returned to public control;
  2. Knife crime is a priority but it’s about more than taking knives off the streets, it’s about a ‘public health approach’ to tackle the underlying causes;
  3. Ms Brabin supports re-nationalisation of the railways and said: “People remember the old British Rail. It doesn’t have to be like that.”

The Mayor on bus cancellations and reliability and her anger at the bus companies:

“It’s certainly not good enough. Arriva, in particular, has had a whole raft of quite shocking cuts and First to some degree as well.

“It’s shocking because I have done everything in my power to support the bus companies. When they said they couldn’t recruit bus drivers I was able to work with them – and this was an innovation, it’s never been done before – I was able to work with all the bus companies to launch a recruitment drive for 1,000 bus drivers.

“When they said they couldn’t train drivers I used my adult education budget money to set up courses to train drivers to make sure I could do everything in my power to prevent them cutting services.

“I also brought together the Northern mayors to lobby the Government to say you can’t stop the Bus Recovery Grant. We can’t have that cliff edge. We got a further extension.

“I said to the bus operators, this further extension, this work, this commitment is on the understanding you don’t cut services. And here we are, with services cut across our region.

Tracy Brabin addresses Kirklees Council at Huddersfield Town Hall

“It’s frustrating and disappointing because people should not be forced into private cars or taxis because they can’t get a bus to work or to college. This is not how we grow our economy and it’s certainly not how we tackle the climate crisis.

“We have to be growing our network, not just holding up the remnants of what the network looks like currently.

“These cuts to routes and services now are a timely reminder of the absolute failure of the current model and the reason why we are embarking on an assessment about franchising.

“We will be in a position to put forward a comprehensive programme of bus reform in the first quarter of 2024. Until then I will do everything in my power to ensure the bus network can be the best it can be.”

The Mayor on the fatal stabbing of 15-year-old Khayri Mclean and knife crime:

“It was shocking and awful for the family and it can’t continue. We have to have a public health approach. It isn’t just about the police, it’s about health, education, poverty, lack of purpose and access to knives as well.

“We have been doing a big piece of work with Operation Jemlock which is taking knives off the streets.

“In Kirklees we have released extra funding to local voluntary organisations. The Violence Reduction Unit, which I fund, we have got a deterrence car which is undercover and out-of-uniform officers, they have eyes and ears on the ground, trying to witness and look at where people are gathering and where there is anti-social behaviour.

“They have experience of what to look for and can help divert people away from violence. We have victim services to support those who have been a victim.

“It is also about diversion. There is a great programme in Kirklees called Safety in Music that we fund, which is pivoting young people at risk of getting into gangs or into crime.

“One of the stories we know about was of a young girl at risk of being groomed and getting into crime. She was learning how to be a music producer and then I spoke to her and she was starting her degree at Leeds Met University doing exactly that. That is the sort of journey and intervention work that we need to do.

“One of the problems is that the process of justice takes too long and then it falls away and justice isn’t served so I hope that victims will be supported better in the future and we get better outcomes.

“This is why my approach and our Police and Crime Plan is a public health approach. We will not solve this by getting more police officers on the street.

“We have to tackle early intervention and prevention. We have to get in early with these families and help them to help their children and divert them away from violence and stop them from getting access to these sharp weapons.” 

The Mayor on rail re-nationalisation and train cancellations:

“We are almost there at the moment because Northern is run by the Government. It was the operator of last resort because it was so parlous.

“It just isn’t working when TransPennine cancels up to 60 services a week across our regions and then there is no impact on their income. How does that work? This is not good enough.

“We have said to the Secretary of State if you think you can’t solve this problem then there is an opportunity, in the same way they have done with Mersey Rail in Liverpool, to let local leaders, advised and supported by local councillors, intervene and say where we want these routes, how often and to make sure a service is being delivered for the public.

“We cannot carry on as we are. TransPennine cannot continue like this because next May they come up for a renewal of their contract, which potentially is another eight years.

“That could be another eight years of this mayhem, people missing job opportunities, funerals, not being able to get to cultural events, not being able to choose the university they want to go to because they can’t rely on the transport.

“I think when people talk about re-nationalisation they remember back to the old British Rail, but it doesn’t have to be like that.

“We have foreign companies running our networks taking the profits back to their nationalised networks in their own countries. This doesn’t seem to be right or sensible. So there has to be intervention as we can’t carry on.

“Every week that goes by, the impact this is having to our economy in West Yorkshire alone is £2 million from this chaos and £8 million across the North.

“Just think what we could do with that investment. It is holding us back and we have to intervene.”