Sunak’s Budget was a crash landing for any hope of making transport greener and cheaper for working people
Just four days before COP26 starts, the Budget was a crash landing for any hopes this government would make transport greener, cheaper and more geared towards the people who rely on it.
International leaders will flock to Glasgow for a once-in-a-generation chance to take the urgent action we need to avert a climate crisis. But the gap between the government’s green rhetoric and the reality is best illustrated by the fact those travelling from London and other parts of the UK face a farcical choice. Travel by train from the capital, forking out £135 for a single ticket. Or take a short haul flight for a fraction of the cost, at just £25.
This week, the Chancellor cut domestic Air Passenger Duty while doing nothing to address above-inflation rail fare hikes. The move appears to be a late consolation prize for the aviation industry, who spent more than 18 months asking for support they were promised through the pandemic that never materialised. The idea this government is taking seriously the challenges we face on cutting transport emissions is absurd.
After weeks of heavy hints the Eastern leg of HS2 would be scrapped, the project was conspicuous in its absence from Rishi Sunak’s speech – as was Northern Powerhouse Rail. It’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that the eventual emergence of the government’s Integrated Rail Plan – a can that’s been kicked down the road so many times, there must be very little left of it – will not spell good news for the schemes.
The working people of this country are asked to pick up the tab, while bankers get a tax cut on their profits
Building HS2 in full – something the Prime Minister, the Transport Secretary and previous Tory governments have committed to more times than it’s possible to count – would free up rail capacity to get freight off our roads, create 150,000 new skilled working class jobs and offer the 13 million people in the major towns and cities of our industrial heartlands proper infrastructure and connectivity.
Coupled with the full delivery of Northern Powerhouse Rail – promised, committed to and recommitted to more than 60 times in the last seven years – it’s a once-in-a-generation chance to transform opportunity across the whole country, rebalancing the disproportionate focus of transport funding from London and the South East.
But the Tories aren’t about the bigger picture. Soundbites, slogans and easy wins have come to characterise Boris Johnson’s government. The communities who will feel the brunt of years of broken promises, empty words and no action are the same as those the Chancellor is asking to foot the bill as those with the broadest shoulders remain largely untouched.
Those same working people will likely face a record increase in rail fares in January as spiralling inflation begins to bite. They’ll be paying more than 50 per cent more to get to work than a decade ago – relying on a crumbling system that prioritises private company profits ahead of passengers.
The situation is even more bleak for bus users, with fares 70 per cent higher than they were a decade ago and many routes cut, particularly in rural communities. The Conservatives promised 4,000 new zero emission buses nearly two years ago. We’re still waiting for them to hit the road.
And let’s face it, things aren’t great there either. With Christmas fast approaching, our businesses and suppliers are still grappling with the impact of a 100,000 HGV driver shortfall. Yet despite trumpeting a planned £50m extra to improve facilities for lorry drivers, nearly £20m of that was missing in the budget small print.
The reality is, the Tories do not value skilled working class jobs and have failed to invest in them over the last decade. Official data from 2018 showed that there was a national shortfall of around 3,700 parking spaces for lorries, meaning drivers often end up sleeping in lay-bys and industrial estates.
It’s symptomatic of the Conservatives’ approach to this growing crisis – which isn’t going away any time soon. Sticking plaster solutions, offering little when you even slightly scratch the surface, which leave ordinary working families facing the consequences.
Food and medicine shortages. Eye-watering energy bills. The cost of the household shop creeping up. As the brilliant Rachel Reeves said yesterday in her budget response, the working people of this country are asked to pick up the tab, while bankers get a tax cut on their profits.
There is another way. Labour would put working people first and create a transport network that’s fit for a modern, green economy – with passengers at its heart. We’d tax fairly, spend wisely and after a decade of anaemic growth and empty promises, get our economy firing on all cylinders.
Jim McMahon is the Labour MP for Oldham West and Royton.
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