Patrick McLoughlin

Patrick McLoughlin’s reappointment welcomed but challenges lie in wait

In the wake of one of the most remarkable, and unpredictable (apart from the BBC’s exit poll!), general elections in recent times, David Cameron has lost little time in announcing the line up of his new Cabinet, writes Michael Parry

For the majority of senior posts the Prime Minister has opted for continuity, as is the case for our sector where Patrick McLoughlin MP remains as the Secretary of State for Transport – his reappointment has been welcomed by many, as he is viewed as someone who offers a knowledgeable approach for a sector that will continue to face many challenges during the next five years.

Following on from last week’s article (Sector gets back to business after Conservatives win General Election), this report includes some of the thoughts from four of our leading commentators.

Kevin Buchanan, group managing director of Pall-Ex, said: “We have certainly seen a renewed confidence in the market thanks to the continuity provided by a Tory win.  The focus of economic recovery can now continue, but we do need greater investment in transport infrastructure to keep Britain moving.  That must include quicker improvements to the roads and rail network.

“The HGV levy, introduced in 2014, has been a great success, raising more than £17 million from foreign lorries to invest back into our road networks.  But, there is still work to do.  Since the HGV levy has been in place, it has resulted in charges imposed on over 112,000 vehicles from 76 countries – enough to repair 320,000 potholes across the UK.

“This government needs to be firm on European drivers.  Under the current system, drivers from across the continent use our roads for free, do not pay tax, and do not always buy fuel.  Taking a tougher, fairer stance on this should lead to lower fuel duty costs.

“Though we anticipate that HS2 will be high on the agenda for the Tory government, the reality is our existing road networks should be a priority too.  We’d like to see a balanced transport strategy that takes into account all types of infrastructure, rather than an inclination to invest all efforts into one centralised mode of transport.

“With the confirmation that Patrick McLoughlin will remain Transport Secretary, that means he is likely to be one of the most long-serving people in that position.  What we need is someone who is unafraid to tackle tough issues like these to ensure infrastructure that is fit for purpose across the UK.

The RAC’s chief engineer, David Bizley, comments included: “There is now a golden opportunity for the Transport Secretary to oversee the delivery of the commitments included in the Road Investment Strategy and in his party’s manifesto.

“The UK’s motorists, who are among the most heavily taxed in Europe, can look forward to benefiting from the boldest investment plan in a generation for England’s strategic roads which will tackle some of the nation’s worst bottlenecks and congestion pinch points.

“But the political foot must not be taken off the gas – there are a number of pressing issues that the Transport Secretary must now get to grips with such as ensuring the UK’s pothole crisis is finally resolved with equally imaginative plans to tackle the maintenance backlog on local roads and examining the contribution that the whole transport sector can make to improving air quality.

“On road safety, we call on him to consider reintroducing casualty reduction targets. Such targets have proven effective in the past, and with the number of children killed or seriously injured on our roads up for the first time in 20 years, now is the time for action to be taken. We also call on him to publish the green paper on young drivers, something that was mooted in the previous parliament but never saw the light of day.

“Finally, motoring taxation is likely to come under renewed scrutiny.  Motorists and businesses are both looking for, as a minimum, continuation of the fuel duty freeze.  Whilst the Treasury is likely to have the final say, we hope the Transport Secretary will continue to stand up for motorists and encourage a common sense approach by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.”

Commenting on Mr McLoughlin retaining his position in the Cabinet, British International Freight Association (BIFA) director general, Robert Keen said: “Previously, we have urged Government not use the leadership of the DfT as a political football, but to allow the Department to really focus on long-term solutions to the transport infrastructure issues which affect our members’ businesses activities.

“We have seen more than 40 transport secretaries since the Second World War, and three in two years prior to the appointment of Mr McLoughlin in September 2012.

"So, BIFA sees his reappointment as a welcome sign of continuity in the Department.  We hope that under his leadership, we will see some joined-up thinking on the many issues that affect our members, including capacity concerns in the UK’s aviation industry, the state of UK road infrastructure; investment in the railways and strategy on port and harbour developments.

"Mr McLoughlin has previously said that he has an open mind on airport expansion, and we can only hope that when the Airports Commission presents its final report on the matter, its recommendations will be adopted in full and the overdue expansion of UK aviation hub capacity will commence.

"Likewise on HS2, while the talk on its pros and cons continues, the UK faces increasing rail congestion that hurts the country’s bottom-line, and we will hope that the DfT and politicians on all sides of the House now get behind this important project.

"BIFA is resolutely apolitical and favours no party in government, but will continue to encourage Mr McLoughlin and his team to guarantee that freight forwarding companies, who are key to the facilitation of the UK's international trade, are at the forefront of government thinking and policy.

"We look forward to presenting the case for freight and logistics to the DfT and the new government."

Stephen Joseph, the chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, said: “The Transport Secretary faces a range of challenges to get this country moving and craft a transport system which is sustainable, efficient and fair.  Patrick McLoughlin must make the right decisions on the important issues of rail fares, rail franchising, buses and roads which all have a strong impact on people’s everyday lives.

"He must also act to create a more sustainable transport system that works for communities across the country, do more to improve air pollution following the recent Supreme Court ruling and ensure that spending focuses on meeting our future transport needs."

With regard to freight, the campaigning organisation offers the opinion that HGVs cost taxpayers £6.5 billion a year in costs of pollution, congestion and road maintenance and this subsidy makes it difficult for rail freight to compete.  It also believes that roads will be safer and the air cleaner if more freight goes by rail and water.

So, as Patrick McLoughlin returns to his desk at the Department for Transport, there will be many waiting to see how he addresses the many challenges that lie ahead – and, importantly, what funds will be forthcoming from a government determined to ‘balance the books’.