Analysis: McLoughlin believes what he’s saying, but talk is cheap

Patrick McLoughlin Transport Secretary at Kirkstall Forge Station with Stuart Andrew MP. 7 December 2015.  Picture Bruce Rollinson
Patrick McLoughlin Transport Secretary at Kirkstall Forge Station with Stuart Andrew MP. 7 December 2015. Picture Bruce Rollinson
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No-ONE can doubt the Transport Secretary’s commitment to investing in better transport links but promises have to be delivered.

WHEN you speak to ministers it usually becomes clear within a few minutes as to whether they have a genuine passion for the job or because one day it might lead to something they are genuinely interested in.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin certainly falls into the former category. He is across the issues and has a genuine passion for improving transport links as part of efforts to improve the country’s economic performance. And as the MP for the rural Derbyshire Dales constituency, he hears plenty from his own constituents on the need to make transport better.

But he also finds himself as the front man for a Government which increasingly looks to have over-promised and under-delivered on transport.

The commitment to electrify the Trans-Pennine and Midland Main lines in the last parliament came undone in the early weeks of this one when the projects were “paused” and then restarted on a longer timetable which has still failed to satisfy the Public Accounts Committee of MPs.

Prior to the election, the Government raised expectations when it commissioned a rail electrification taskforce to look at which projects should be prioritised for the five years from 2019. The Calder Valley and Leeds-Harrogate-York lines were among those earmarked but following the delays to the current electrification projects discussion of future investment has gone very quiet.

And in the heat of the election campaign the Conservatives promised they would build the second phase of HS2 between Yorkshire and Birmingham from the North. Now in Government, that cast-iron pledge has been reduced to an aspiration.

Mr McLoughlin would argue that this Government and its coalition predecessor’s record on transport investment compares favourably to other recent administrations.

But at the moment that record is being overshadowed by the failure to live up to expectations the Government has itself created.