Our transport sector must be run for the benefit of passengers, not for private profit
We need a plan to protect jobs and invest in infrastructure if we’re to have environmentally sustainable services that meet public demand
The past six months have proven extremely tough for our whole country, and our transport sector has been no exception. While some businesses may be starting to recover, key industries such as aviation and rail are set to feel the effects of this crisis into next year and beyond. While we welcomed the furlough scheme, the government must recognise that there are areas within the transport sector that will be among the last to get back on their feet.
For example, we called on the government to follow the example of other countries by intervening and bringing forward a sectoral deal to protect jobs in our aviation industry – which contributes £22bn, 267,000 jobs and a further million supply chain jobs to our economy. But in doing so, we must recognise that the aviation sector must become environmentally sustainable, which we can do alongside protecting against short-term unemployment and helping to stimulate that change from a position of strength. Although the aviation sector has been neglected, the support that rail operators have been afforded has been on an unprecedented scale.
At the beginning of lockdown, Tory ministers brought in emergency contracts with rail operators in which the taxpayer underwrites loss-making operations, collects all income and pays companies a fee, with profit, to run services. These contracts look set to be extended, potentially for another two years.
We must ensure spending is spread fairly across the country – something the Tories have failed to do
While rail services must be guaranteed, the profit paid to operators does not. Operators are raking in hundreds of millions, and some estimates indicate that half a billion pounds in profit will be made from these contracts.
Labour wants to see our rail services brought in-house and run for the benefit of passengers, not for profit. This crisis gives the government a unique opportunity to finally accept a policy which has strong and widespread support.
The government must also do more for buses. Operators and councils are struggling to provide the services relied on by so many. We will continue to press the government for action and restate our calls for greater council involvement in the running of the network. Local transport services must be accessible for local people. It is important to state that transport is more than trains and buses – we must present policies to improve all modes of transport. No interest is too niche, no concern too small.
Over the next 12 months and beyond, we will give more attention than ever before to sectors such as our maritime industry and fight for all those in it to be paid a fair wage.
Thousands more people per week are cycling, compared to six months ago. We have a unique opportunity to build on this, but the government is squandering it. No one wants a return to the levels of pollution and congestion we saw before lockdown, but if we fail to make our roads safe enough to cycle, people will revert to taking the car. The government should be developing a comprehensive new national cycling safety campaign, targeted at cyclists and motorists.
It is not just modes of transport, but also infrastructure that needs attention. We must make sure that our national infrastructure building programmes are focused on projects that will deliver for local people, and that spending is spread fairly across the country – something the Tories have failed to do over the last decade. I am proud of Labour’s record in government of investing and developing our public and wider transport services. It is a legacy I hope we can live up to when we get into power. But until the next election, we will work hard to scrutinise and challenge ministers to improve our transport sector, in order to deliver the services that people need.
Jim McMahon is the Labour and Co-operative MP for Oldham West and Royton, and shadow transport secretary