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The Tory-led government has already demonstrated just how little it understands about the importance of good quality affordable public transport.


The idea that the Department for Transport had a ‘good war’ in the spending review negotiations was exposed as a myth by the respected IFS which described them as a ‘loser’ after their 15% budget cut.

Labour is committed to halving the deficit in this parliament. There would have been cuts to transport spending if we had won the election. We have therefore backed the painful cuts to the roads budget of nearly £2billion and the scrapping of a number of public transport bodies as well as significant cuts to the cost of running the DfT.  

However, we would not have cut so far or so fast. The ideologically driven scale of the cuts is reckless and places our economy at considerable risk. The loss of capital investment in particular puts the prospect of growth in danger. And if you don’t have growth, you just can’t credibly tackle the deficit.

So we would have made different decisions in three areas. We would have sustained the vital investment in rail infrastructure. We would not have abandoned Labour’s fair funding formula for rail fares. And we would not have slashed the money for local government to maintain essential, but non-profit-making, bus services.

First, the cancellations and delays to Labour’s planned investment in the rail network will do great damage to British jobs and industry as well as holding up vital improvements. Electrification is going ahead around
 Liverpool and Manchester and the Great Western Mainline to Bristol, but there is silence on our plan to take that on as far as Swansea: vital for the South Wales economy. And there is silence on any electrification of the Midland Mainline. Labour’s plan for 1300 new carriages has been slashed, there is still no green light for major projects such as the Inter-City Express Programme, while vital rail schemes such as Thameslink and Crossrail have seen their completion delayed.  Combined with the cuts to the planned work to upgrade stations, these delays and reductions of our planned capital investment will have a real impact on the rail network at a time when there are serious capacity and reliability issues on so many services.

Second, the decision to shift more of the burden of the cost of using public transport onto passengers risks pricing people off the railways and back onto the roads. The government just doesn’t get that the social and economic benefit of public transport goes wider than the benefit to the individual passenger. The 16 year old who can stay on in education. The person seeking work able to take up an opportunity further away. The pensioner able to get out into the town centre and maintain vital social contact. These all benefit society. Their move to a ‘user pays’ principle is a real concern. We would not have reversed the step that we took in government to require train companies to apply fare limits to all fares separately, rather than hiking some by significant levels traded off by smaller reductions elsewhere. And we would not have made things even worse for rail passengers by allowing fares to rise by 3% above inflation from next January.  

Third, while funding for local government would have been reduced, we would not have cut as severely as 28% of local transport funding. This is already having a catastrophic impact on vital bus services. Research by the Campaign for Better Transport shows that the current tally of local authority bus cuts is a staggering £34million – with 70 per cent of councils cutting bus services. Three local authorities are proposing to cut all support for non-commercial buses – this will have a devastating impact in rural areas where council supported buses can make up 90% of the network.  And these cuts will get worse next year when the government cuts by 20% the Bus Service Operators Grant, which provides bus companies with a fuel duty rebate. According to Department for Transport figures, without BSOG we would see a 6.5 per cent increase in fares and a 6.7 per cent fall in bus usage. Finally, and perhaps most worryingly, the cuts in funding that local transport authorities receive to compensate bus operators for free travel for pensioners and disabled people will see bus operators receive less money and so while David Cameron has kept his election promise to protect the bus pass – he is turning a blind eye as the bus services are cut making the pass worthless for many pensioners.

A sustainable and affordable transport system is vital for the economy and vital for the environment. The approach that the government is taking is bad news for passengers, particularly commuters; bad news for those that rely on buses to get to work, or take up work; and – most of all – bad news for business, competitiveness, jobs and growth.

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Written by Maria Eagle   
Wednesday, 23 March 2011 14:25
Last Updated on Thursday, 24 March 2011 13:04


The Govtoday Debate

Maria Eagle , Shadow Secretary of State for Transport



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