Caledonian Conversations dinner

Patrick McLoughlin argues that a "no" vote in September’s referendum will secure transport benefits for Scotland.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon Sir Patrick McLoughlin MP

Thank you Malcolm.

It’s a pleasure to be here and a welcome opportunity to talk about cross-border transport in the UK with so many expert and distinguished guests.

So thanks to Ross and everyone from SCDI for inviting me and I look forward to our discussion later.

It’s a discussion which takes on added significance now we are just 8 months away from the Scottish referendum.

Indeed, transport is an important part of the independence debate. I think people on both sides of that debate agree that if Scotland is to flourish in the future it needs to be an outward facing nation.

A country that welcomes people and investment from abroad that builds strong connections with international partners and that’s wired into the global economy.

But where we differ from the pro-independence lobby is that we believe Scotland has a better chance of achieving those goals if it’s part of the United Kingdom

Part of a bigger, more powerful block in which people and goods can all move freely, unconstrained by international borders, where devolved administrations work alongside the Westminster government on a shared vision to improve transport throughout the UK.

The challenge of the future is how to grow in a balanced way.

How to build a joined up economy.

How to make the whole of the UK more competitive and resilient.

And one of the most effective ways to do that is to invest in transport.

We’ve spent decades neglecting our transport system adopting a ‘patch and mend’ mentality.

In 2009, the World Economic Forum ranked us 33rd in the world for the quality of its infrastructure. For much of the previous decade, the UK had been the lowest infrastructure investor of all the OECD countries. So even in good times, when money was plentiful, we failed to close the infrastructure gap with our competitors.

Somewhere along the way, we forgot the lessons of the Victorian era.

How good infrastructure becomes part of the fabric of the country.

How it keeps paying back, generation after generation.

But finally things are changing.

Today, we have a national infrastructure programme.

We’re tackling the slow, unpredictable and costly planning system, we’re raising the profile of transport in government, we’re getting different departments, different sources of funding, and different regions to work together.

And working with the devolved administrations, we’re reversing decades of underinvestment to benefit the whole of the UK.

Take rail.

We’ve embarked on the biggest rail modernisation programme since the Victorian era.

Network Rail will invest £38 billion between 2014 and 2019.

And many of the improvements will be felt north of the border.

The Intercity Express programme, for example, includes £2.8 billion for a new fleet of bi-mode trains on the East Coast line.

That will improve reliability, journey times, capacity, and comfort on services from London to Scotland.

We’re upgrading the West Coast and East Coast infrastructure.

We’re co-funding the Caledonian Sleeper with the Scottish government.

And we’re investing in better rail freight links.

Together, these measures will make a massive difference to services.

But they won’t be enough to absorb rising demand on our main north-south routes in the longer term.

Those lines between England and Scotland are not just the most important rail routes in the UK. They’re also the busiest.

Hardly surprising if you haven’t built a new north-south line in 120 years and we’re going to keep on travelling more and more.

That’s why we need HS2.

A genuinely national network, the backbone of the UK, that will connect Scotland, north England, the Midlands, and London.

Phases One and Two are crucial steps towards that goal.

Boosting capacity by nearly 20,000 passengers an hour.

From the day these lines open, Scotland will benefit.

With seamless movement of high speed trains onto the West and East Coast Main lines cutting the journey times from Edinburgh and Glasgow to London by up to an hour.

This will boost the Scottish economy by around £3 billion.

But the benefits of high speed rail will accrue as the network grows.

Our objective is a national network that will bring the constituent parts of the UK closer together in a way we haven’t seen since the coming of the motorways.

So we warmly welcome the support and enthusiasm for high speed rail in Scotland.

We’ve instructed HS2 Ltd to identify options to make further capacity and journey time improvements between northern England and Scotland - including how to reduce the trip from Glasgow and Edinburgh to London to 3 hours or less.

We have a good relationship with the Scottish government. Which sits on the high speed rail steering group and we’ll continue to work closely together as Scotland develops its own high speed plans.

Like rail, we plan aviation with the whole of the UK in mind, as it’s so crucial to our national prosperity and to the growth of every region.

Scotland’s geography means it’s particularly reliant on its air connections. Not just from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen but also from places like Inverness, Wick, and the islands.

It’s important to address the connectivity gap wherever it exists and not just on international flights.

There’s strong demand for routes to the UK’s main hub airport, Heathrow, too.

So we recognise that Scotland has a significant interest in the outcome of the Airports Commission as it examines options for maintaining the UK’s status as a global air hub.

The commission’s interim report was delivered before Christmas.

At this stage we do not intend to comment on any of the shortlisted options which include - but are not restricted to - adding capacity at Heathrow.

But what I can say is that our strategy going forward will be one that best meets the needs of the entire country.

That’s also an objective of our aviation policy framework.

And it’s why we have a mechanism for protecting key routes.

Normally in this country, airlines decide which routes they serve based on market conditions. Government does not intervene.

But we can step in if devolved administrations like Scotland apply to protect particular existing air links to London through public service obligations (PSOs).

As part of the Spending Round, we announced £20 million to maintain regional services to London where there is a risk that connectivity may be lost.

And we published guidance clarifying the process.

But it is for the Scottish administration to determine the business and legal case on a PSO, and to apply for support.

Our roads programme also affects Scotland.

We are investing in the biggest upgrade to the network for half a century, including a tripling of the national roads budget.

We’re adding 400 more lane miles of motorway and we’re improving the A1 in north Yorkshire.

We’ll publish the results of a feasibility study into dualling the A1 north of Newcastle to Scotland later this year.

Lots of other transport services we provide are UK-wide in scope like driving tests, vehicle inspections, coastguards, aviation security and accident investigations.

My message tonight is simple.

We’re better together.

Together, we’ve become one of the fastest growing economies in the Western world.

Together, we are modernising the UK’s transport infrastructure, reversing decades of underinvestment, linking up the country to secure long-term growth and rebalance our economy.

I don’t believe that creating an unnecessary international border where movement by road, rail, sea and air has to be controlled is the best way forward.

For Scotland or for the UK.

We have a fantastic opportunity here to put the difficulties of the past behind us and build a better future.

So let’s grasp it together.

Thank you.

Published 5 February 2014