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Appointment of new Secretary of State for Transport

4 September 2012
The Campaign for Better Transport has welcomed the appointment of Patrick McLoughlin as Secretary of State for Transport.

Stephen Joseph, Chief Executive said:

“Patrick McLoughlin inherits the brief at a critical time. Potentially contentious decisions on rail fares, franchising, runways and roads are all in the offing. Outgoing Transport Secretary, Justine Greening, understood that transport has implications for people far beyond Treasury targets. We hope the new Transport Secretary acts as a champion for a sustainable transport system that works for communities across the country."

The new Secretary of State will face a series of challenging and important decisions. Stephen Joseph said:

“Transport is often regarded as a low-level brief. But it is important politically because it impacts directly on people’s everyday lives. Getting things wrong on transport – not having enough salt for roads in winter, for instance – can mess up political careers.”
 
The key issues on the new Secretary of State's desk include:

Rail fares
The Government policy is highly contentious - to raise rail fares by an eye watering 6.2 per cent come January. This will hit Home Counties commuters particularly hard – amongst them a significant numbers in Tory-held marginal constituencies. Outgoing Transport Secretary, Justine Greening, had already hinted of the need to strike a deal with the Treasury to limit rises. It will be a pressing priority to ensure the Chancellor does this in his Autumn Statement this happens to head off a revolt amongst the travelling public and Tory backbenchers alike.

Rail franchising
Richard Branson is taking to the courts over the West Coast Franchise being given to First Group – but that franchise is just the start of a new round of franchises decisions which will see the majority of rail route franchising being renewed before the end of the Parliament. It will be for the new Secretary of State to ensure that decisions are transparent in support the interests of train users as well as the Treasury.

Runways
Runway capacity in the south east is a major source of controversy for the Government. The Coalition agreement included a commitment not to build a third runway at Heathrow, and extra runways at Gatwick and Stansted have also been ruled out. There are very strong practical objections to extra runways at Heathrow, not to mention political opposition from the Liberal Democrats and Conservative MPs in London.
 
Roads
The Prime Minister set out proposals in March for a “horizon shift” in roads investment, and held out the prospect of new toll roads funded by pension funds and other institutions. A feasibility study on this is under way and will report in October. The study has run into problems, because tolling of existing roads has been ruled out so there is no real revenue stream against which funds can invest. If roads spending cannot be moved off balance sheet, it will be difficult for the Government to justify much of it. Treasury and No 10 seem unaware that there will be protests from environmental and local groups (including Conservative supporters) against new big roads, as there were in the 1990s. Tackling the road maintenance backlog would be better value but new schemes are seen as sexier than fixing potholes (see recent Campaign for Better Transport report on private roads).

Notes for Editors
Campaign for Better Transport is the UK's leading authority on sustainable transport. We champion transport solutions that improve people's lives and reduce environmental damage. Our campaigns push innovative, practical policies at local and national levels. Campaign for Better Transport Charitable Trust is a registered charity (1101929).

The Campaign for Better Transport has produced a full briefing on the issues confronting the new Secretary of State for Transport.