Andy Burnham promises 'London-style' transport system for Greater Manchester

The Greater Manchester mayor said there would be "tap-in, tap-out" services across bus and trams and announced plans to reform education under devolved powers.

Andy Burnham spoke at the Insider breakfast event in Manchester (Image: Insider Media)Andy Burnham spoke at the Insider breakfast event in Manchester (Image: Insider Media)
Andy Burnham spoke at the Insider breakfast event in Manchester (Image: Insider Media)

Andy Burnham has promised to introduce a "London model" of public transport to Greater Manchester, with "tap-in, tap-out" services across buses and trams.

The Mayor of Greater Manchester was speaking at our sister title Insider Media’s Devolution for Business breakfast event on Tuesday (23 May). He said that while he was supportive of improvements to the TransPennine trains, which are being brought back under government control due to poor performance, he added that they have to come with equal focus on Manchester city centre’s train stations.

“The issue is the lack of rail capacity in the city centre," Burnham said. "We need two more platforms at Piccadilly. Compare the five Manchester city centre trains stations to those in London that have had billions spent on them. It’s unbelievable that we are still having to argue for an underground station at Piccadilly.”

Burnham, who said recently that Westminster was treating the North like "second class citizens" when it came to transport, also signalled major changes to the city's bus network: “We are about to launch the biggest change to public transport outside of London in decades, which is the Bee Network. I promise everybody it will make public transport in Greater Manchester much more functional and it will do it quite quickly.

"It will have a London model – integrated bus and tram travel. In September it will change physically with the yellow and black buses. It will be a new icon. It will become more liveable and more investable. By 5 January 2025 we will have phase one, a full tap-in, tap-out London style transport system for bus and tram across the 10 boroughs.”

Burnham, who has long been touted as a potential Labour leader, also refused to rule out an eventual return to Westminster politics. When asked by Insider editor Simon Keegan if he would consider a return to London, he said: “I’m afraid you’re stuck with me for a long time because I’m loving this job. This is the job that suits me. People talk about returning to Westminster, but I think we are solving things more out of it than in it."

However, he added: "I’m not ruling out a return to Whitehall one day but I’ve got a long time left here."

On the 'Manchester Baccalaureate'

Much of the discussion focused on Burnham's plans to use his devolved powers in making changes to education. Last week he announced plans for a Manchester Baccalaureate, or MBacc, to help the two-thirds of local students who do not go down the traditional academic route get a degree. This, he says will not only level the playing field for teenagers who don’t go to university but will also help close the skills gap.

He said: “This is about correcting an issue this country has long neglected. The university route dominates education.”

He said he wanted a system that starts with MBacc, then onto T-Levels, A-Levels or other qualifications then onto degree apprenticeships. He added that for a city that prides itself on creativity, qualifications in this area are seen as inferior to more mainstream subjects: “Isn’t it a bit mad that we are saying to young people at 14 that art, music, drama have a lower status? Well they don’t to me. We should send a message to young people that everyone is equally valued at 14.”

When asked why he believes a metro mayor can do a better job than Whitehall he said: “Why have successive governments never been able to fix technical education? I would say because you can’t fix it from Whitehall. How can you? The needs of local economies and employers are different. Technical education can only be built from the bottom up rather than imposed from the top down. It never has worked and it never will work.”

Other speakers at the event included Brabners chief executive Robert White, Salford Business School dean Dr Janice Allan, Deloitte partner Zoe Davidson and Northern Cities director at Arcadis Richard Jones. The Liverpool City Region metro mayor and combined authority chief executive and political representatives of Lancashire and Cheshire were also invited to speak.

For full coverage of the event, look out for the next edition of the Insider magazine, and you can watch the full event on the Insider's special page.