What will a new PM mean for transport?

22 September 2022
What will a new PM mean for transport?

A blog by Norman Baker, Director of External Affairs at Campaign for Better Transport

Norman Baker

The wait is over and we now have a new prime minister and a new secretary of state for transport. But what does this mean for the transport agenda?

When it comes to the largest carbon emitting sector, Liz Truss had said little on transport prior to becoming PM. She announced that she intends to support the continued operation of the marginal Doncaster Sheffield airport and elsewhere she has close ties to the Adam Smith Institute and the Institute of Economic Affairs; both right-leaning think tanks which support road pricing. This could suggest that the Truss government might actively adopt and promote a road pricing policy – something which now seems inevitable. In her own constituency, Truss has campaigned for rail improvements and is strongly in favour of private sector investment in rail, which of course is being largely sidelined by the Williams-Shapps plan. She did however choose to take a private jet to Balmoral and back to see the Queen – a separate one from Boris Johnson – when there are plenty of flights from London to Aberdeen. Is this an indication that our new PM has the same liking for taking the plane, rather than the train as our former PM did? We will have to wait and see.

With a new cabinet now in place, Liz Truss selected Anne-Marie Trevelyan, MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed, as her Secretary of State for Transport. Ms Trevelyan’s interest in transport hitherto also appears to have been limited; as a backbench MP she asked zero written questions on transport. Back in her constituency, she has been focussed on the campaign to dual the A1 from Berwick to Edinburgh, taken an interest in the LNER service and welcomed the decision to return the East Coast Main Line franchise to Department for Transport control.

Immediately after Ms Trevelyan’s appointment we wrote to her to congratulate her on her new role and to convey our top priorities that we would like to see her department commit to:

  • A freeze on rail fares next year to mitigate the impacts of the cost-of-living crisis. This could be fully funded by introducing a fuel tax on all UK domestic flights
  • Making the temporary national bus fare cap permanent to get the country moving, promote levelling up and revive our vital bus network
  • Tackling air pollution, the biggest environmental threat to health in the UK, by prioritising modal shift towards sustainable modes of transport

For years we have worked closely with the Department for Transport and immediately before the change in leadership we were pleased to welcome two big transport announcements we had worked to bring about. The extension of the Covid recovery support for buses will prevent widespread cuts to services this Autumn and the announcement of a temporary £2 bus fare cap for England from January were both positive indications of government listening to our calls for longer-term investment in public transport. We hope that the new leadership will continue to support these plans and look forward to continuing our productive relationship as the department focuses on the development of the Great British Railways, the Transport Decarbonisation Plan, and the National Bus Strategy.

It remains to be seen where Anne-Marie Trevelyan will end up in the rankings of transport secretaries. The fact that her previous government post was as a minister covering the climate change brief is hopefully a sign that she will be appreciative of the challenges here.

Perhaps what is more likely to determine how successful she is however, will be if she is allowed to get on with the job, or will the climate change scepticism and extreme free market ideology within Numbers 10 and 11 derail her?