We must invest in transport infrastructure to unite Britain
Transport is a customer service business and I want to create and maintain a fit-for-purpose system that makes people’s lives easier, writes Grant Shapps MP
There was a time, not so long ago, when transport was considered something of a backwater among Whitehall departments. In fact it was abolished as a separate entity in 1997 by Labour, becoming part of a sprawling super-ministry alongside environment and regional government.
How times have changed. Today, far from being on the margins of government, the Department for Transport (DfT) is very much on the frontline, helping the country meet its biggest challenges, from keeping things moving after Brexit and tackling climate change, to building a stronger and more accessible economy.
That’s why, at the end of July, I asked to become transport secretary in Boris Johnson’s new cabinet.
Right now, the successful implementation of Brexit is my top priority. Whatever happens in the negotiations between now and 31 October, we know that transport will be centre stage.
It’s crucial that our ports continue to operate smoothly, and our airports provide the global links that make us one of the best connected countries in the world.
Beyond Brexit, I have also set out my overarching vision for the department: to create and maintain a modern, fit-for-purpose transport system that makes people’s lives easier – trains that run on time, fairer ticket prices and less overcrowding.
I want to encourage walking and cycling, and promote increased use of public transport. And I intend to contribute to the Government’s green agenda by making driving an electric car the norm in my time in this office, having discovered how switching to my own electric family car has helped.
We should never forget that transport affects the daily lives of almost everyone in the UK. We rely on trains to get to work, and on buses to take the kids to school. We rely on cars to visit friends and family, and road haulage to keep supermarket shelves stocked with fresh food.
Transport is an enabler that makes everything else in Britain possible; it means medicines get to hospitals, people get to work or school and we get well-earned leisure time. That’s why I see efficient, accessible and affordable transport as fundamental to our country’s future.
In particular, I want to work with industry to deliver a more reliable, passenger-focused railway. Making the trains run on time is absolutely vital, but to do that we have to make sure the structure of the industry is delivering for passengers.
The imminent publication of the Government-commissioned Williams Review provides us with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to redesign our railway around the customer, and we must seize that opportunity.
To support better services, we must continue to invest in the transport infrastructure nationally and locally to unite Britain, revitalise our towns and cities, and unleash a new wave of innovation and growth.
We have a particular responsibility to put the UK at the vanguard of innovation. The world of transport is about to experience a revolution in technology, which will transform the way people and goods travel, and put us on course for a zero carbon future.
Already, British-made electric cars like the Nissan Leaf are showing the way. But I want this country to become a leader in other new transport technologies, from autonomous, self-driving vehicles to electric aircraft and the digital railway. It’s why we’re investing in research and development, innovative businesses, and STEM skills training.
Above all, I want the DfT to truly become the Department for Transport, championing passengers and users in everything we do. That’s something I was only too aware of as we worked around the clock to bring home holidaymakers after the collapse of Thomas Cook, in what’s become the biggest peacetime repatriation in UK history.
Fundamentally, transport is about helping people – and while I’m secretary of state, I’m determined to make a difference.
Grant Shapps is Conservative MP for Welwyn Hatfield and transport secretary