OUR PART IN HOLDING THE GOVERNMENT TO ACCOUNT
26 March 2015 | Author: Louise Ellman MP, Chair, Transport Select Committee

Louise Ellman MP

With the general election just a few weeks away it is a good time to reflect on some of the achievements of the Transport Select Committee over the last five years.

Our intervention that led ministers to scrap their original plans to change the Coastguard service, which would have jeopardised safety through a loss of local knowledge and through daylight-hours-only opening. Our report gave a voice to the coastguards we met around the country, including in Falmouth, Stornoway and Clyde. Though the Government dropped its plans for daylight opening only following our recommendation, we still have concerns about the changes. There must be no complacency from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, given the vital work of the Coastguard service. We’ve also considered whether the MCA has sufficient resources to maintain the UK’s position as the world’s leading maritime centre.

Rail passengers will have welcomed our success in persuading the Government to address the disruption caused by cable theft, which fell by 80% following the implementation of our January 2012 recommendation for legislation to reform the scrap metal market.

Throughout this parliament we put the spotlight on the cost of motor insurance – an issue which had been raised by constituents, but had attracted little attention from the Government or Parliament before our intervention. Our reports lifted the lid on a highly dysfunctional market and pushed the Government to introduce proposals to reduce whiplash claims – while still maintaining access to justice, for example by insisting on independent medical assessments. I am pleased that car insurance premiums have fallen as a result.

The Government, and Sir David Higgins, chair of HS2 Ltd, have accepted our recommendations that the potential of HS2 will only be realised by maximising connectivity with the existing network, and improving east-west rail links; and for regeneration to go hand in hand with building the new line. Sir David has also endorsed our recommendation that a national transport strategy is the only way to plan for the long term. Road and rail must be considered together, as we stressed in our scrutiny of the strategic road network.

We warned that the rise in the number of people killed on our roads in 2011 should be a signal for the Government to provide much stronger leadership on road safety. We followed up this work by considering the dangers faced by cyclists from a lack of cycling infrastructure, poorly-designed junctions and aggressive driving. Last October the Government accepted our recommendation for funding for cycling to reach £10 per head annually by 2020 – vital for improving and developing our cycling infrastructure.

In July 2011 we warned of the greatest financial challenge for the English bus industry for a generation, and called on the Department for Transport to review the extent of cuts in bus services. We have also highlighted the wider issue of the considerable difference in levels of transport investment across the country.

A continuing theme throughout this parliament has been the need to improve transport resilience in winter weather and for better communication with travellers facing disruption, whether at Gatwick on Christmas Eve 2013, rail passengers south of the Thames in December 2010, or motorists caught up in road closures caused by snow and ice.

Following the expensive chaos of the failed West Coast main line tendering process, we called for major changes to the way rail franchises are awarded. No doubt further work will be done in this area in the future. More recently we called for the Secretary of State to use his franchise specification powers to require the removal of the outdated and unpopular Pacer trains from the rail network by 2020. I welcome the acceptance of our recommendation for the Northern Rail franchise: the rail regulator has cautioned about the safety of the continued use of Pacers, which have no place on busy routes around cities such as Liverpool, Manchester, and Leeds.

We called on the Government to build on the great success of the 2012 Paralympic Games through improving access to transport for people with disabilities, enabling disabled people to participate more in society.

The conclusion we reached in May 2013 that a new hub airport in the south-east of England was unlikely to be feasible without substantial public funding for supporting infrastructure is now the policy of the independent Airports Commission. We found that expansion of Heathrow was the best option for increased airport capacity in the South East, based on research commissioned from the economic consultants Oxera. I welcome the Airports Commission’s inclusion of our recommendation in their shortlist so far.

The Committee has been successful in holding the Government to account during this parliament; in influencing policy; and in and making a real difference for rail and air travellers, motorists, pedestrians and cyclists, and all the individuals and organisations that travel on our seas and inland waterways. 

Reference: Transport Times, April 2015 Issue

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