Transport Times, National Transport Awards

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

How a modern transport infrastructure can be an important part of improving the economy.

Opening remarks

Thank you for that introduction. It’s a pleasure to be with you all this evening.

This event is a celebration of excellence and achievement by some of the brightest and the best in the transport industry.

With everything from innovations in transport planning, to improving safety, to safeguarding the environment, the shortlist of nominations for this year demonstrates clearly the innovation and dedication that exists throughout this exciting sector.

We’ve seen nominations for individuals and teams; employees and operators; small projects and big projects; local and national initiatives.

All very different, yet all with something in common - because every single one of them shows the difference that the people of this industry make.

Transport infrastructure - a fundamental component of the economy.

The reason this event matters is because transport matters..

When I started this job, nearly 18 months ago, I made clear that Britain’s transport system should be an engine for economic recovery - playing a vital role in getting this country open for business again.

Modern transport networks are the arteries of commerce, moving people to the workplace and goods to the marketplace.

And as we modernise our infrastructure, and encourage more sustainable forms of travel, we can cut carbon emissions, improve air quality, and offer a cleaner, greener transport system and a better quality of life.

Having inherited a deficit greater than any in our nation’s peacetime history, it would have been easy for us to slash capital investment and side-step the politically challenging cuts in current spending.

Let’s be honest, for decades this has been the traditional response of British governments to fiscal pressure.

And transport is usually a favourite target of the swinging axe.

Well, not this time, and not this government.

We have been prepared to take the tough decisions on current spending programmes and on welfare.

Transport investments

Far from being targeted, transport capital emerged as a major winner in last year’s spending review - with a commitment to invest over £30 billion in road, rail and local transport capital projects right across our country.

That’s more than Labour invested in the previous 4 years.

And we are prioritising the projects that will get Britain back on the path to growth.

The biggest programme of rail investment since the Victorian era.

2,700 new rail carriages.

A massive rail electrification programme.

The green light for Crossrail and Thameslink and the Intercity Express Train.

A multi-billion pound tube upgrade programme.

And we’re investing £400 million in support for ultra low emission vehicles to progressively green our car fleet - while bringing a new Nissan production line to Sunderland with hundreds of new jobs.

Helping to get Britain making things again.

Re-inventing how we work

So transport investment can be a driver for economic growth. But transport also has to contribute to deficit reduction. And our commitment to investment must be balanced with a determination to re-examine and re-invent the way we do business, so we maximise efficiency and value for public money.

For example, on our railways.

As you all know, our railways are among the most expensive in Europe - with some of the highest fares in Europe and the highest levels of taxpayer subsidy as well.

And in the short term, we’ve had to take another tough decision: to increase fares above inflation, so we can carry on investing to tackle overcrowding and unreliability.

But it simply isn’t sustainable to go on paying for the inefficiency of the railway with above inflation fare rises and massive public subsidy.

We have to solve this problem from the bottom up - by improving efficiency.

So Theresa Villiers, the rail Minister, and I will shortly publish a comprehensive blueprint for reforming our railways.

Asking the hard questions about taxpayer subsidy and considering the options for greater local commissioning of services, as we seek to drive cost-saving innovations in service delivery.

Looking again at the role of government, Network Rail, and the train operators.

Aligning the interests of all the parties

Making Train Operators more accountable to their customers.

… and Network Rail more accountable to the train operators.

And giving railway employees a real interest in the success of the companies they work for.

We’re also looking ahead to the future with our plans for a new high speed rail network linking London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.

This is a project that would transform the social and economic geography of Britain - slashing journey times and putting desperately-needed new capacity on our railways.

As well as helping to close the North-South gap that has plagued our economy for so long.


And talking of the longer term, we’re also working with the industry to develop a new long-term strategy for aviation.

Working out how best to plan for aviation expansion on a sustainable basis, within the limits implied by our carbon reduction targets.

Setting out a way forward for the next 40 years that will generate economic growth, meet our decarbonisation objectives, and manage the noise, and other impacts on local communities.

Kickstarting what will be, I hope, a new chapter in the aviation policy debate.


Meanwhile, we are thinking smarter about how we get our roads and motorways working better.

We’re investing £10 billion in our roads as part of the spending review.

And I’ve already talked about our intention to ensure that the car can retain a place in our future transport plans - by focussing on the real enemy, the carbon, rather than bashing the motorist, and making sure Britain becomes a leader in Europe in low-emission vehicles.

But we also have to be innovative and flexible about making the best use of the roads we have already paid for.

In one area, it might be peak time, or even permanent, hard shoulder running to ease congestion.

In another, it might be variable speed limits to keep traffic flowing.

And yes, we’re consulting on a new motorway speed limit - a move that would put Britain back in the fast lane of global economies, boost productivity and deliver hundreds of millions of pounds of economic benefits.

Helping ensure our strategic roads become the arteries of commerce they were always intended to be.


But it’s not just about our national networks. The transport issues that most concern communities are often local in nature.

Yet, for far too long in this country, important decisions about local transport have been taken, and monitored, centrally - by Ministers and civil servants sitting in Whitehall, ticking boxes and filling in forms.

So we overhauled the way funding is delivered - slashing the number of separate local transport grant streams from 26 to just 4, giving local authorities much greater flexibility and freedom to decide their own priorities.

And I have recently announced my intention to consult on how we can fully devolve decisions and funding for local capital transport improvements to ‘Local Transport Consortia’, each made up of a number of local enterprise partnerships and their constituent local authorities.

Putting decision making power where it belongs - in the hands of local communities.

All the nominees should feel very proud of themselves

These are important times for the transport industry - no doubt about that.

As we seek to ride out the economic storm, we must continue to target investment where it makes the most difference, find new and innovative ways to fund capital expenditure, and continue relentlessly to control the costs of the projects we undertake.

Make no mistake, it will be a tough challenge.

But if these awards tonight demonstrate anything, it is that those who work in our transport sector have the capability, the ingenuity, and the commitment to meet that challenge head on.

Because when push comes to shove, it’s the people in transport who really make the difference.

They make the difference because they understand the needs of the businesses and individuals that use our transport networks every day.

They make the difference because of their commitment to meeting those needs.

And they make the difference through the skills they bring to delivering those vital transport improvements on the ground (or in the air!).

That’s who, and what, we are honouring tonight.

And over the coming months and years, I look forward to working with all of you to make our shared vision of a world-class British transport system a reality.

So thank you for listening, have a great night and the best of luck to all the nominees as they wait to hear if they have won an award.