The next chapter in transport policy

Gavin Devine

Advisor, PLMR Board

With the Department for Transport publishing further detail on the Local Transport Fund this week, Gavin Devine has looked at how transport will play a role in the 2024 elections as part of our insights report.

Transport policy is typically a bit of a bridesmaid when it comes to national politics. It is talked about, but not the main event. And the same is true in 2024: the General Election will not be won or lost on the basis of Labour’s attitude towards trains or the Conservatives’ approach to roads. But this year it might edge a little bit closer to centre stage.

When the Prime Minister scrapped parts of HS2 last Autumn and redirected the money to a slate of new projects it opened the door to Conservative candidates across the north (and beyond) to boast on the campaign trail this year that they had secured funding for a new station in the constituency or a new local bus route. The announcement of the Local Transport Plan this week is meant to consolidate all this, even if other parties scoff at how little is being spent and how far in the future, all the while questioning why the North is being forced to choose between proper connectivity by rail, decent buses and filled in potholes.

But these are really skirmishes rather than a major national battle. The Labour Party’s safety first approach to spending commitments means that it won’t want to get into an arm wrestle with the Tories about transport investment. When it comes to rail we can expect firm commitments to electrification schemes and to major projects like Northern Powerhouse Rail “in full” without many details or timelines. Meanwhile, previous dividing lines, such as renationalisation of the railways, have melted away in the face of post-pandemic realities. There’s no serious difference between Labour and the Conservatives on roads, and neither party has a huge amount to say about aviation and shipping.

some of the other elections this year transport could be pivotal, particularly in the Mayoral contests. In London, the Conservatives have sometimes said that they want the contest to be a referendum on the Ultra Low Emission Zone. Alongside that attempt to stoke a culture war, Sadiq Khan will come under wider fire for the performance of Transport for London on his watch.

In Manchester, the Mayor will talk a lot about the Bee Network and his plans for Piccadilly Station; in Leeds, it will be the proposed tram and rail links to Bradford and beyond; and in Birmingham Andy Street will trumpet the improvements and investments linked to the rump of HS2. Mayors elsewhere will talk about their concerns and dreams about transport policy too. And candidates for local councils all over the country will debate potholes, bus routes, parking and traffic calming.

The question is whether, once the elections are over, the pledges and pleas made during local, regional and national campaigns will turn into reality. Will projects postponed under the Conservatives be resurrected if Labour wins? How will the ways we get around have to change if we’re going to achieve net zero? We can be confident that transport will never be the most important political issue, but there is a chance it will evolve from bridesmaid to Cinderella over the next few years.

Click here to download the report

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