Labour is the first of the three main UK parties to release its 2015 General Election Manifesto. Freshwater’s Public Affairs team summarises what it means for the transport and infrastructure sectors.
Yesterday (13 April), the Labour Party launched its 2015 General Election Manifesto.
Underpinned by what the party has termed a ‘Budget Responsibility Lock’, it promised that every policy commitment in the manifesto was fully funded without additional borrowing. In a further attempt to convince the electorate that a future Labour government would not equate to uncontrolled public spending, the manifesto states that legislation would be passed to make all major parties submit their spending plans in advance for auditing by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR).
In the context of this ‘lock’, the following were the priorities for transport and infrastructure in the Labour policy manifesto for government.
Labour is proposing significant reforms to the system of rail franchising. We have heard before of the party’s plan to review the franchising process. This would be initiated as a priority by a Labour government, with successive shadow transport ministers having been consistently critical of the franchising system and the West Coast Main Line “fiasco”.
In the most significant - and most controversial - new policy announcement, Labour would legislate to enable a public sector train operating company to compete for rail franchises with commercial operators “on a level playing field”. Labour also announced their intention to establish a new National Rail body to oversee investment in and operation of the railways and to allow rail user groups a greater say in their operation. Industry observers will be keen to know how this new body might affect the remits of Network Rail and the Office of Rail and Road (formerly the Office of Rail Regulation).
Labour re-iterated their policy to freeze commuter rail fares until 2017. This freeze is estimated by Labour to cost £211m, which would be raised by delaying two road schemes: the A27 Arundel bypass and the A358 Taunton to Southfields improvement programme. On this policy, at least, Labour and Conservative appear to be in broad agreement.
Other Labour rail policies include a future fare rise cap, which would be introduced by Labour on every rail route in the country. Labour also re-affirmed their commitment to introducing a new legal right for passengers to access the cheapest ticket for their journey.
With regards to regional development of the transport network, Labour confirmed their continuing support for the construction of HS2, though also committed to keeping costs down. What would happen should HS2 costs spiral out of control is open to speculation. Labour also stated their goal to improve rail links across the North of England as a further effort to stimulate regional economies.
Transport would also be included as part of Labour’s ‘English Devolution Act’, which would see control of £30 billion of funding transferred to city and county regions. This devolution would include cities and regions taking greater control of local transport systems, allowing them to decide routes, regulate fares, push for improvements in services and, crucially, bring together trains, buses and trams in a single, smart-ticketed network in the mould of Transport for London.
As far as infrastructure policy is concerned, the Labour manifesto contained little new information. The intention of Labour to create an independent National Infrastructure Commission, according to the recommendations of the Armitt Review, was reaffirmed. And the target of building 200,000 homes a year by 2020 was also restated. This is to be achieved by instituting the conclusions of the Lyons Review, such as building new garden cities and giving local authorities ‘use it or lose it’ powers to encourage developers to build on land their own.
Overall, Labour’s manifesto reveals little about their plans for transport and infrastructure that we haven’t heard before. But it did remind observers of several important points, such as the commitment to further devolution of transport powers and the establishment of an independent National Infrastructure Commission to act as a guiding mind to plan infrastructure over the long term and beyond the five-year cycle of fixed term parliaments. Many have been calling for such a body for some years and it is likely that the Conservatives will announce an equivalent in their own manifesto.
Also highly significant was Labour’s confirmation of a review into the franchising system and, in a legislative move that would prove popular with Labour’s core vote - not to mention trade unions - the party’s commitment to allow a public sector operator bid for rail franchises as they expire. It wasn’t quite Shadow Transport Secretary Michael Dugher’s promise to put the franchising system “in the bin,” but it was a confirmation that the Labour Party is geared towards significant reform of the way public transport operates.
For more 2015 General Election news and comment, see Freshwater’s Hub.
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