My priorities as Labour’s new Shadow Transport Secretary

Jim McMahon
© Chris McAndrew/CC BY 3.0

Transport is the lifeblood of our economy. It is something I have long held an interest in – both in the big projects that attract attention and in the day-to-day experiences of people as they travel around the places where they live, work and socialise.

The Covid-19 crisis has posed significant challenges for the transport industry that will remain with us for years or decades to come, and the job of the opposition is to work constructively with the government over this period. We will offer support – and scrutinise, too. This is particularly important in the transport sector, which plays a crucial role in the immediate crisis response and the longer-term recovery.

We welcomed the furlough scheme, but we also called on the government to recognise that there are areas within the transport sector that will be some of the last to get back on their feet. For example, we called on the government to follow the example of other countries, by intervening and bringing forward a sectoral deal to protect jobs in our aviation industry – which contributes £22bn, 267,000 jobs and a further million supply chain jobs to our economy. But in doing so, we should recognise that the aviation sector must become environmentally sustainable. We can do that, alongside protecting against short-term unemployment. Labour can help to stimulate that change from a position of strength.

We are also clear that public funds must be spent in the national interest in a transparent manner and with conditions clearly set out. Companies should not be able to take from the job retention scheme and use it on hard-working staff whom they plan to make redundant.

Aside from the Covid-19 crisis, I and the rest of the shadow transport team are keen to continue to build strong working relationships. We want to act on the most relevant issues affecting transport users, staff and operators, as well as focus on future policy planning and investment.

We know that, for many, the cost of using public transport is too high and accessing public transport is too difficult. There is also a lack of ability to influence those who decide the future of the transport sector and future transport investment.

I am also clear that transport is more than just trains and buses, and we must present policies to improve all modes of transport. No interest is too niche, no concern too small. As a shadow transport team, we will give more attention than ever before to sectors such as our maritime industry and fight for all those in it to be paid a fair wage.

Thousands more people are cycling compared to six months ago. We have a unique opportunity to build on this progress, but the government is squandering it. Nobody wants a return to the levels of pollution and congestion we saw before the lockdown began, but if we fail to make our roads safe enough to cycle, people will revert back to car use. The government should be developing a comprehensive new national cycling safety campaign targeted at both cyclists and motorists.

It is not just modes of transport but also infrastructure that must be a focus of our attention. We need to make sure that our national infrastructure building programmes are focused on projects that will deliver for local people and that spending is spread fairly across the country – something the Tories have failed to do over the last decade.

Labour has a proud history in office of developing and investing in our public and wider transport services. We will continue that legacy in government. Until then, over the next four years, Labour will work with the government to challenge and improve our transport sector – and we will produce a manifesto fit for the transport challenges we will face when we come to power.

This piece is part of a series by members of the new shadow cabinet.

Join us for our upcoming online event ‘LabourList in conversation with Jim McMahon’ on Monday, September 7th, at 7pm.

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