Wednesday 20 March 2019 / 12:25 PM Andy McDonald

Andy McDonald speech at the Institute for Government

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Andy McDonald MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, speaking at Institute for Government said: 

 

Thank you, Cath for inviting me to speak today, and thanks to all our distinguished guests from politics, business, academia, the media, and many other fields, for taking the time to be here today.

 

I’d like to thank the Institute, its fellows and members for the important work you do in our public life. The need for proper analysis and discussion of the job of government has never been greater.

 

I’m also pleased to be here this morning for this reason.

 

This year marks a century since the Ministry of Transport was set up in 1919 at the end of World War One under the government of Lloyd George. Supported by Winston Churchill, the Liberal Prime Minister wanted to nationalise the railways and bring them into the Ministry. Yet they were thwarted by the motoring lobby who worried that the railway interest would dominate. And, of course, there are echoes in the discourse today a century later.

 

So, the formal establishment of the Ministry of Transport within the UK’s system of government came much later than many of the other great offices of state.

 

Surprising, you might think, that it took so long to bring all the modes of transport into a stand-alone ministry. Transport had been around for a while before 1919. But perhaps that is precisely the point. That lowly birth of the Ministry of Transport says something about the priority it was given and perhaps has had within government in the subsequent decades- Something of an afterthought.

 

Indeed, transport was absorbed in, and then back out again, of Departments of the Environment at various times under both Labour and Conservative governments. And the churn rate of transport ministers is higher than other areas of Whitehall. The job has often been regarded as a perch on the way up or down the ministerial ladder. Chris Patten.

Well, that perception is changing, and I’d like to accelerate that change.

 

As we approach the third decade of the 21st century there is a renewed sense of purpose about the role and value of transport in the economic and social life of this country. I intend to look at why this is so in my remarks to you today and how these changes will reflect Labour’s priorities for the Department.

 

But first I’d like to consider the legacy of the last Labour government’s transport policy. There are many positives and much to be proud of.

 

We didn’t blink in the face of the calamity which was the collapse of Railtrack in the autumn of 2001. The decisions Labour took then saved the railway from total system collapse.

 

We agreed the settlement for rail investment and long-term finance which – despite what the Conservatives say – laid the foundations of future growth to this day. We sowed the seeds of Crossrail, devolved transport, company car tax reforms and the advent of congestion charging.

 

Perhaps our biggest mistake on transport, I believe, was not responding properly in response to the fuel protesters in 2000. New Labour was at the height of its powers with a Conservative Party in disarray and we should have seen this through. The failure to do so led to a huge distortion in both the public finances and how the financial burden has fallen across the modes of transport which we still live with today.

 

You may know that the Labour Party is currently engaged in a detailed process of Preparing for Government.

 

I very much agree with the view expressed at an Institute for Government (IFG) event last month by my Shadow Cabinet colleague, Emily Thornberry.

 

She said that the Opposition should set out in public, in as much detail as possible, the policies we plan to introduce and the principles we intend to apply once in government.

 

The reason for this is so that, as well as us preparing ourselves for government, the civil service then has the best possible chance to prepare for us.

 

It’s fair to say that the Department for Transport has faced significant challenges since 2010. But in my view a lack of vision and appropriate political direction have led to a loss of sight of what sort of society we want our transport system to help create and serve.

 

Labour’s primary objective for the Department is for it to create an affordable, accessible, and sustainable transport system, for the many, not the few, founded on the principle that transport is an essential public service.

 

Other priorities include establishing much closer links between transport and planning; cutting emissions and improving public health through a shift to public transport and active travel; and rebalancing our economy and reducing inequality through working alongside devolved authorities to invest in transport. I will return to these and other objectives later in my speech.

 

Brexit has, of course, been a huge challenge for the Department, with hundreds of officials being allocated to No Deal planning.

 

I’m aware that additional demands have been made of staff and their duties extended because of Brexit, into areas that they could never have expected. Whether that extends, as is rumoured, to being on call to distribute blankets and sandwiches at ports or on motorways in the event of No Deal, is another matter altogether, but civil servants didn’t sign up for this.

 

I really don’t think that the route that this Government has taken with the Brexit negotiations has made best use of the talent and experience of the Civil Service.

 

And it might come as a surprise to some of you in the audience, but I have been quite critical of the current Transport Secretary.

 

Perhaps for today I’ll simply say that my criticisms have not been without foundation.

 

But under my leadership my firm resolve would be to provide the vision and leadership that I think is essential from a Transport Secretary.

 

And in particular, when I look at the work of the Department for Transport, I very much regret the dominance of short-term thinking over long-term strategies.

 

Transport provision needs long-term goals and vision.

 

Consider the railway: Electrifying railways is vital to decarbonising rail and meeting Britain’s climate change objectives.  The government decided to halt electrification to save a few hundred million pounds.

 

This hugely short-sighted decision has led to a vast amount of added expenditure on dual-use electric/diesel trains that can run on different sorts of power, but which are slower, heavier, dirtier, less reliable and more damaging to the tracks.

 

What’s more, the stop-start approach to electrification, rather than a sensible, steady, rolling programme, has vastly increased the costs. It’s also undermined business investment and led to labour instability.

 

I have spoken elsewhere about how Labour would extend and improve the present financial planning ‘control periods’ for the railway. We established this medium-term process in government, but I believe we need to go much further. That’s why we will set out a 30 to 40-year long-term vision for the railway, enshrining the programme for operations, maintenance and enhancements.

 

Many civil servants and officials working in the Department for Transport and its agencies, approach their work more as a vocation than a job.

 

They see themselves as public servants providing an essential public service that is key to the quality of people’s lives and is vital to the country’s economic prosperity.

 

But those working in transport at Great Minster House have found themselves all too often serving the business interests of private rail and bus companies.

 

Moreover, it is they who have had to pick up the pieces and the blame when the railway, in particular, continuously shows itself to be dysfunctional and wasteful.

 

‘Civil servants in Marsham Street writing timetables’ has been a familiar industry critique of the department for years.

 

It reflects the absurd, unsustainable and ever-growing level of involvement officials in the rail industry. This over-specification and man marking of the industry by the department needs to end. It’s a waste of resources and energy. I suspect there is a widespread consensus about that.

 

The Institute for Government’s latest Whitehall review shows that the DfT is losing one in five key staff each year. The report also highlights an employment culture across the civil service which encourages staff to shift rapidly from one government department to another.

 

In my view, such a culture is not conducive to supporting the development and securing of specialist departmental expertise.

 

We’ve seen multi-billion-pound public procurement contracts from the East Coast rail franchise and Intercity Express Programme procurement, go very badly, as well as smaller procurements such as cross-channel ferry contracts, and I cannot help but ponder whether these cultural departmental deficits have been at play in these instances.

 

There is a perfect storm where, in the case of rail, officials are being more and more drawn into the inner workings of the rail industry, while simultaneously losing the skills and expertise within the department to manage these onerous responsibilities.

 

Surely what is needed is a career path and progression system which better rewards specialist skills and policy knowledge.

 

The next Labour Government will work to achieve this as well as putting the principle and culture of public service back at the heart of transport provision and governance.

 

I’ll now move on to outline some of the other principles that will define – in fact redefine – the priorities of the Department for Transport’s work under a Labour Government.

 

Last year, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that the world has 12 years for global warming to be kept to a maximum rise of 1.5 degrees.

 

Transport is the UK’s single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and the worst-performing sector when it comes to reducing carbon emissions.

 

What’s more, recent years have seen a rising trend in emissions, caused largely by increased traffic growth, encouraged by an ever-expanding programme of road building.

 

For too long, transport has been put in the ‘too difficult’ box so far as climate change is concerned.

 

This will change under Labour.

 

I say it is only ‘too difficult’ if it is approached with unambitious or, dare I say, conservative priorities.

 

Labour will align the priorities of the Department for Transport with our commitment to tackle climate change. We will put an end to paying lip service to looking after our planet, and instead we will ensure we put our moral responsibility to cut emissions at the department’s core and we will allocate departmental spending as if climate change really matters.

 

The Department doesn’t have a carbon reduction budget or target.

 

Under my leadership I will want to see the Department set a carbon budget consistent with the aspirations of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

 

In addition, I will want each of the sectors – rail, road, aviation and maritime – to have carbon reduction targets in line with that departmental budget.

 

We will reallocate departmental spending to achieve the changes required.

 

We will reform the regulatory structure of transport to drive these behavioural changes.

 

Stronger regulation will also help achieve better value for money and productivity from public investment in transport.

 

Under Labour there will be a New Social Contract for Transport.

 

Consider these points about where the burden falls on transport users. Fuel duty frozen since 2010 at a cost of more than £50 billion. Air passenger duty in aviation broadly frozen over a similar period. Rail and bus fares up by more than a third. This is not a sensible approach to transport policy.

 

It’s in this context that Labour has concluded that we need a New Social Contract for Transport.

 

The social contract for transport has completely collapsed under the Conservatives, with soaring fares for bus and rail passengers, alongside huge cuts to investment in road maintenance, railways and bus services.

 

I’ve asked Professor Phil Goodwin a well-recognised expert in the field, to lead a study into what a New Social Contract for Transport should comprise.

 

I want him to investigate the key elements of building a social contract for transport which would be fair to all transport users, all other beneficiaries of transport and to all tax payers. The DfT will be at the heart of this social contract for transport between the public and government.

 

I turn now to some key cross-departmental issues, starting with planning and development.

 

There is a deep and damaging rift between land-use planning and transport planning.

 

Transport provision, particularly sustainable transport options, must be at the heart of new developments.

 

Land value capture must also be a key component of this.

 

Labour is committed to a huge expansion in social housing. We want those developments to be centred around good public transport connections from the start, as well as cycling and walking infrastructure. This raises a question about the alignment between the Department for Transport and housing which sits within the Department for Communities and Local Government. I think there is a case for closer integration.

 

It’s our ambition for new housing developments to be ‘transit-oriented’, centred on excellent public transport hubs. These should also be mixed-use developments with both houses and businesses close together so that there are local jobs.

 

They should have high quality design that creates an attractive public realm with streets and public spaces that are good to walk, cycle and spend time in.

 

With over half the population already overweight or obese, and suffering increased ill-health as a result, it’s essential to a focus on the major health gains available from travel by walking and cycling.

 

The next Labour Government will put transport planning and spending behind Labour’s public health ambitions and will bring active travel to the fore.

 

Labour will create the built environment and infrastructure to enable people to safely decide to make their local trips by walking and cycling.

 

We believe everyone should have the opportunity to live healthier lives.

 

The best way to achieve this is to create a safe environment where walking and cycling are the most pleasant and convenient means of travel for short trips.

 

I want to maximise the role of the DfT in supporting Labour’s plan to use transport to boost all regions of the UK.

 

I was in Birmingham last week and it’s quite clear that transport is driving the economic transformation of that city, particularly through the coming of High Speed Two in the middle of the next decade.

 

There must be a major role for the DfT in rebalancing Britain’s economy across rail, buses, surface access to ports and airports as well as active travel and freight.

 

We need a fairer allocation of transport investment across the UK’s regions.

 

And the DfT is also hugely important in supporting industrial strategy. Under Labour, the Department will proactively support our industrial strategy and maximise provision of high-quality jobs in transport.

 

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has recently said the next Labour government intends to drive a Green Industrial Revolution.

 

Transport, and the railway in particular, was at the heart of the Industrial Revolution. And so, those greenest forms of transport, with the railway at the forefront, are critical to our plans for a Green Industrial Revolution.

 

For example, we will instigate a rolling programme to progressively electrify the railway.

 

A recent report from the Rail Industry Association showed that very substantial cost reductions to the electrification process can be achieved.

 

I commend their work which shows that moving from the present stop-start approach to electrification to a continuous programme that builds skills, knowledge and capacity can reduce costs by nearly a half.

 

We will increase the UK’s skills capacity to support the fleets of the bus and road haulage industries as they move towards zero carbon.

 

We should use procurement to boost skills and apprenticeships in green jobs.

 

New technology and digitalisation will drive further changes.

 

Along with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the DfT needs to sit at the apex of this, to build green skills, knowledge and capacity to improve transport and at the same time reduce carbon.

 

The movement of goods has never been strategically planned in the UK. What’s more, the logistics industry and supply chains have changed dramatically.

 

Our motorways and smaller roads are at peak capacity. The road haulage industry faces recruitment and demographic challenges.

 

That’s why we need a much more integrated freight strategy.  Labour will work with businesses across the UK to provide smarter ways of moving products and aggregates around the country.

 

We need to develop key freight corridors across transport modes to improve trade links. We need to move away from the siloed approach to planning by mode of transport.

 

Labour’s smart logistics strategy will realise the scale of our ambition. A balanced freight policy between road and rail can feed into urban consolidation centres, enabling the ‘final mile’ to be undertaken on local clean-tech transport.

 

No other country in the world would dream of running its public transport services like we do. Our buses are a free-for-all, with private bus companies deciding where there will and won’t be bus services. They prioritise what will best serve their shareholders, with the needs of local people coming a poor second.

 

Cities like Munich or Strasbourg take a strongly interventionist approach to transport and own their own trams and buses.

 

These regions aren’t hotbeds of radical socialism. There’s a very good reason for this rational approach to transport policy because quite simply it delivers affordable and good public transport.

 

Probably the most serious problem is that splitting up our public transport system into innumerable pieces has made it impossible to achieve an integrated system that provides a joined-up service for passengers. The railway fails to be integrated even with itself, let alone with buses and trams.

 

The next Labour Government will reform the culture of the Department for Transport so that it is committed to, and equipped with the skills and knowledge, to undo the damage of deregulated privatised transport and put in place connected public transport networks that give people the freedom to travel without depending on private cars because the railway was decapitated and chopped into bits for privatisation, it lacks any kind of guiding mind.

 

I mentioned earlier that the Department for Transport has been drawn into the railway more and more to try to compensate for the lack transparent governance. This should not be the role of the Department.

 

Labour will create a unified rail company that will provide a guiding mind for the entire railway.

 

This will be more at arms-length from government than the present privatised railway and will draw strongly on devolution, since we believe that local expertise can best develop our rail service, while securing national strategic oversight to secure the best connectivity possible.

 

This unified rail company will include High Speed rail which is so vital for the whole country not just in terms of connectivity but also new housing and jobs.

 

High speed rail won’t just increase rail capacity, it will improve surface access links to airports, unlock capacity for rail freight to and from ports and free up space on our congested roads.

 

We need a guiding mind to ensure that all enhancements are integrated into, and mapped across, our strategic plan. Labour will ensure that projects such as HS2 closely align with the much-needed upgrades elsewhere on the network, such as Northern Powerhouse Rail. In terms of investment in high speed rail versus the existing network, I say: it’s not a question of either-or. It is both. Having said that, there will be no blank cheque from Labour.

 

These steps will redefine the role of the Department for Transport in rail governance so that it is only concerned with strategic oversight, working in partnership with a unified publicly owned railway that has the professional freedoms to deliver the rail services travellers need and deserve.

 

Labour’s determination to make transport fully accessible to passengers and staff is long overdue, and through emphasising the ‘service’ of public service, passengers will be able to travel, with confidence, knowing that rail staff are all there to assist at all times.

 

These changes will involve a significant reallocation of staff from the DfT rail group to the public rail company.

 

There is deep social and economic inequality in access to our transport system.

 

Buses are by far the major mode of public transport, providing more than twice as many trips as rail. For many people, buses are the only form of public transport available.

 

And it is particularly those on lower wages, with fewer opportunities, for whom buses are a lifeline. Yet buses have been starved of funding, with decline in real terms every year since 2008/9.

The next Labour Government will tackle the Tory neglect of bus services.

 

We will deliver the funding and the legislative reform to create bus services that function properly, as part of purposely designed networks (rather than just where they maximise the profits of private bus operators).

 

Britain needs a new approach to reducing death and serious injury on our streets.

 

In 2017 there were nearly 1,800 deaths on our roads and almost 25,000 seriously injured people. That’s five people killed on Britain’s roads every single day, and over ten times that number seriously injured – many with life-changing injuries.

 

If these were British troops serving overseas, then quite rightly, this would be headline news.

 

We seem to have come to accept the steady death toll on our roads – as an acceptable cost to pay for the convenience of car use.

 

No other transport sector – rail, aviation or ferry services – would tolerate these shockingly high numbers of casualties. Yet for road transport we seem as a country to assume that these casualties are unavoidable.

 

So, these are some of the key principles by which I would be happy to be held accountable and judged were I to be given the honour of becoming Labour’s next Transport Secretary.

And, if I was speaking to any civil servant walking into the Department for Transport today, what I would say to them is that I hope, with a Labour government coming to power…

– You will feel confident, and proud of the job that you do;

– You, your skills and policy expertise will be nurtured and supported

– You will know your mission is always to support a transport system, for the many not the few, founded on the principle that transport is an essential public service.

– You will see that your job is as much about improving public health through a shift to public transport and active travel as well as rebalancing our economy through working alongside devolved authorities to invest in transport

– And that the contribution you will make to the development of long-term transport policy goals will let you say, you helped reduce inequality and helped build a fairer Britain.

 

That is the sort of Department for Transport I hope they would feel inspired to work for, and it is the kind of Department for Transport that I would want to lead.

 

Thank you.