Maria Eagle's speech to Labour Party Annual Conference 20121 October 2012
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Maria Eagle MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, said today at Labour Party Annual Conference 2012:
Families not only under pressure from energy and food prices, but the rising cost of transport too.
And only real reform will deliver a better deal.
Inflation busting fare rises. Record prices at the pump.
Contributing to the cost of living crisis.
And as I’ve travelled around the country during our Policy Review, let me tell you what I’ve heard:
Young people who say they’ve dropped out of college, because the cost of getting there was just too high.
Commuters who say their season ticket now costs more than the mortgage or rent.
That’s a transport system that isn't working for working people.
And the response from this Tory-led Government?
After two-and-a-half years. And three transport secretaries:
Bus fares up, and one in five supported services facing the axe.
Because the Government chose to cut funding too far and too fast.
Train fares up, by as much as 11 per cent. Not for one year – but three years in a row.
Because the Government chose to increase the cap on fare rises, then told train companies they could hike some tickets by even more.
And when Labour forced a vote in Parliament last month?
Not one Tory or Liberal Democrat MP voted to limit fare rises to one per cent above inflation.
And just when commuters thought things couldn’t get any tougher:
A planned new ‘super peak’ fare.
So your season ticket won’t even be valid on every train.
Even though most people can’t just pick and choose the hours they work.
And, as if fares weren’t complex enough:
Giving the green light to requests from train companies to close ticket offices.
And fuel prices up too: thanks to a decision to drive VAT up to 20 per cent.
A Government completely out of touch with the impact of rising transport costs.
Labour would be making different choices.
Protecting support for local bus services.
Legislating to make train companies apply the fare cap on every route.
Reversing the increase in VAT, while times are tough.
Immediate measures to ease the pressure on families.
But let’s be honest:
This Government has made things worse, but transport costs were already too high.
Because there are fundamental, long term problems with our transport system.
And only real reform will deliver a better deal for fare-payers and tax-payers.
This Government’s economic failure means we will inherit the toughest pressure on public spending.
So the old answers just won’t work anymore.
Remember back to 1997?
One of our proudest achievements:
Free bus passes for pensioners.
But in a deregulated bus market, there was only one way to deliver it:
We paid the bus companies, and we watched as profits soared.
Now let’s go forward to 2015, and the new challenges we face:
Like helping those young people that I met, who said they couldn’t afford to get to college.
But if the 1997 solution was just to pay the bill, the 2015 answer can only be reform.
So, in return for the profits they make in a subsidised industry:
Requiring bus companies to deliver concessionary fares for young people aged 16 to 19 in education or training.
It’s what we mean by predistribution:
Companies acting responsibly, so that tax-payers don’t have to step in.
In Government we passed legislation to make it possible:
Introducing Quality Contracts, enabling transport authorities to reverse bus deregulation in their area.
But it remains difficult in practice.
So when the Integrated Transport Authority in Tyne and Wear decided to get a better deal for passengers, how did Stagecoach react?
They threatened to close depots, sack drivers and take buses off the road overnight.
Sir Brian Souter claimed he’d rather “take poison” than enter a Quality Contract.
And his Managing Director accused the elected, accountable transport authority of “operating in the same camp as Marx, Lenin and Trotsky.”
Just for wanting a better deal for taxpayers’ money.
And now Lib Dem Transport Minister Norman Baker has stacked the rules on bus funding against transport authorities that pursue reform.
I say to the Government:
Restore a level playing field to Better Bus Area funding.
Consider the case for Deregulation Exemption Zones.
Work with councils, not against them.
And to the bus companies, I say:
You operate successfully in a regulated system right across Europe, and you can do so here.
And only real reform will deliver a better deal on rail.
So that we can end the era of above inflation fare rises, while still delivering vital investment:
The rolling programme of electrification, set out by Labour in government.
The Northern Hub.
A new generation of inter-city trains: to be built in the North East, thanks to Labour.
What a contrast to a Tory-led Government exporting jobs by building the trains for Thameslink in Germany. An appalling mistake that they must not repeat with Crossrail.
And HS2. Delivering new capacity. Cutting journey times across Britain, benefitting cities like Manchester.
I say to the new Transport Secretary: it’s time to get behind this project in a way your predecessors failed to do.
Let’s work together on a cross-party basis to legislate for the whole route in this Parliament.
We began the job of reforming the rail industry in government.
Tackling the legacy of a botched Tory privatisation.
We created Network Rail as a not for dividend company.
Yet tax-payers still don’t get a good enough deal:
Not for the three and a half billion pounds they put into the rail industry each and every year.
We saw again this year: an out of control bonus culture, exposing a corporate governance structure at Network Rail that is not fit for purpose.
So we need greater accountability.
But the real waste comes from the costs of fragmentation:
Like the taxpayers’ money paid to private train companies, just so Network Rail can repair the track.
Even through it’s essential to run their services, and make a profit.
The same companies paid to put on the replacement bus service.
And handed £172 million last year to compensate for delays.
Even though very little found its way to the passengers who’d been inconvenienced.
And then, time and time again, the public sector picking up the pieces after private failure.
Not just the disaster of Railtrack. But companies failing to fulfil contracts to deliver services. Not once, but twice on the East Coast line.
And what have we seen, since it is no longer run for private profit?
£187 million returned to taxpayers this year. £170 million the year before.
Profit that next year will once again be shared with shareholders.
That’s if the contract isn’t won by the German, French or Dutch state railway, who already run large parts of our rail network.
Exporting profits to deliver lower fares on the continent, at the expense of passengers in Britain.
So if we were in government today, we’d provide long term certainty and stability on the East Coast line.
Not privatisation for its own sake: but a real public sector comparator.
And if resolving the franchise fiasco on the West Coast Main Line means the Government has to run that on the same basis? Then we will support them.
Labour’s Policy Review will continue to look at what we can learn from other countries, where the structure of their rail industry is more efficient – and fares are lower as a result.
And we’ll continue to look at how best to empower communities to have a greater say over local and regional rail services.
Because only reform can deliver a better deal.
And motorists need to see change too.
Instead of just talking about it, Ministers should act on their promise to crack down on profiteering by petrol companies.
And tackle the abuses in the car insurance market that drive up premiums.
And when two-thirds of the journeys that we make are under five miles:
Let’s make alternatives to driving, not just a possibility, but an attractive choice.
Not just affordable public transport. But supporting cycling and walking too.
Easing the pressure on the household budget.
And in a year when we’ve seen a 12 per cent increase in pedestrians killed on our roads and the appalling tragedy of eighty-eight cyclists losing their lives, we must have a renewed focus on safety.
I know that Patrick McLoughlin agrees.
So I urge him to restore the axed targets to cut deaths and injuries on our roads.
I congratulate The Times on their Cities Fit for Cyclists campaign.
The Government should implement the campaign’s manifesto for change. In full.
Separated cycle-ways. Redesigned junctions. Advance green lights for cyclists.
Setting aside a proportion of the roads budget to make it happen.
Supporting local authorities to extend 20mph speed limits in residential areas.
Better cycling facilities at train stations and on trains.
Safe routes to schools.
And learning the lessons for England from the innovative Active Travel legislation being taken forward by the Labour Government in Wales.
A government out of touch with the impact of rising transport costs.
New thinking from Labour.
Protecting bus services.
Capping rail fares.
Reducing VAT on fuel.
Reform to meet fundamental long term challenges:
Empowering transport authorities to regulate bus services.
Tackling fragmentation in our rail system. Putting passengers before profit.
Cycling and walking: a genuine priority.
Because only real reform will deliver a better deal on transport.