Election Reflections: What now for the UK?

  • Promise of long-termism: How can transport and infrastructure support economic growth?  
  • Devolution turbocharge: Will increased role for mayors in rail, planning and economic development help regeneration? 
  • Decarbonisation: Can recommitment to 2030 ICE ban and port upgrades make the UK a ‘clean energy superpower’? 
  • Local transport focus: Still no LTP guidance and no attention to active transport or shared mobility

With the results in and the Labour party on course for a majority many this morning will be wondering what is in store for them over the next five years. 

As the UK faces a change in governing party for the first time in a generation, a close read of the Labour manifesto by Steer’s consultants does give some clues as to what the country can look forward to over the next Parliament. 

What will their commitments mean when they’re off-paper and come into contact with the real world? As Keir Starmer enters Downing Street our experts analyse what a Labour win means across the sectors we serve. 

Nationally, Labour has promised to roll out a new long-term industrial strategy overseen by an Industrial Strategy Council, a ten-year infrastructure strategy and made a commitment to 10-year research and development budgets. 

The manifesto also sets out a requirement for 10-year local growth plans across the country, with larger roles for Combined Authorities in key policy areas including strategic planning for housing growth, public transport, employment support and access to opportunity and adult education. 

The new Government has also committed to the production of a long-term strategy for transport, and at a local-level looks set to endorse greater integrated planning with mayors given the power to create unified and integrated transport systems. 

These commitments are not accompanied by detail, there is no funding attached to local growth and how exactly the £7.3 billion National Wealth Fund will accelerate growth is unclear. Notwithstanding this the long termism of policy itself reflects a desire for the stability that both local government and business has been calling for. 

Join us for our 'Economic policy in 30 minutes' event with Clare Hayward MBE DL, Chair of NP11 and Cheshire & Warrington LEP on Tue 30 Jul, 11.30am, where we will be discussing the 'Priorities for regional and national growth'. Find out more and register here.

Equally, don't miss our 'Transport policy in 30 minutes' event with Tom Cohen, Reader of Transport Policy at University of Westminster on Thu 1 Aug, 11.30am, where we'll be in conversation about the possibility of 'Building a National Transport Strategy'. Find out more and register here.

Plus, we'll be speaking to Maria Machancoses, CEO of Midlands Connect in our "Devolution in 30 minutes" session on Wed 24 Jul, 11.30am, about the impact greater mayoral powers will have on existing and future transport projects. Find out more and register here.

5. Rail nationalisation - Steer

Labour’s headline rail policy is returning the railways to public ownership as current operator contracts expire, with Great British Railways (GBR) as manager of the new system. Improving regional rail connectivity in the North of England is also included in the promised ten-year infrastructure strategy, with co-ordinated network planning incorporating the priorities of regional mayors in designing services within their areas.

The shift to regional management and funding implied by the role of metro mayors may have knock-on impacts for the remapping of rail operations. Likewise, there is no mention of Northern Powerhouse Rail despite the commitment to improved rail connectivity. This leaves a question mark over previous funding commitments including £17 billion for schemes such as Liverpool to Manchester high speed.

The new National Infrastructure and Service Transformation Authority is set to have rail in its remit, but how this sits and interacts with sub-national transport bodies like Midlands Connect and Transport for the North is unclear.

We'll be speaking to Howard Smith OBE, Chief Operating Officer for London Rail on Tue 6 Aug, 2.00pm to weigh in on 'Rail renationalisation, reform & revival". Find out more and register here.

4. Extending bus franchising powers - Steer

Local leaders have been promised new powers to franchise bus services and the ban on municipal ownership of bus companies will be lifted. 

Public transport connectivity gaps have long been increasing as cash-strapped local authorities struggle to support bus services amidst a decline in routes that bus operators are able to provide commercially. 

The proposed additional powers to franchise local services may benefit some of the bigger non-Mayoral authorities, although developing the capability to manage entire bus networks will be challenging. What is truly exciting however is the potential to use franchising powers to support other interventions in a joined-up approach, for example providing protection to investment in complementary services, infrastructure investment, or demand management. 

What the manifesto is silent on is the much-needed reform to the way government supports bus services through Bus Services Operator Grant and now the post-pandemic £2 fare scheme. For bus to meet its potential, we need to ensure that we’re getting the best from the financial support that is currently provided.

Hear more on this subject at our live conversation with Simon Warburton, Executive Director of Transport at West Yorkshire Combined Authority on Thu 1 Aug, 2.00pm, where we'll be discussing 'The future of fares, funding & franchising'. Find out more and register here.

3. 1.5 million new homes - Steer

Labour’s is promising to build 1.5 million new homes over the coming Parliament, with strengthened legislation to deliver ‘the biggest increase in social and affordable housebuilding in a generation’ as well as the eye-catching pledge to build ‘a new generation of new towns’.  To boost efforts Labour has promised restoration of mandatory housing targets, action to ensure up-to date Local Plans and a ‘brownfield first’ approach with promises to release ‘grey field’. 

Delivering housing targets and planning permission are two different things, the timelines are often out of sync and tenfold the amount of planning applications are required to ensure physical delivery of the desired housing build outcome. 

Using ‘grey field’ sites will require careful consideration of existing infrastructure and attention to emerging modes and innovations like shared micromobility, car clubs and mobility hubs to ensure development is sustainable. Likewise, the extended timelines of new town development mean special attention will need to be paid to Local Plans as well as cross-boundary and integrated planning for infrastructure and housing. 

2. 2030 ICE Ban How will this affect the EV transition - Steer

Labour plans to restore the 2030 ban on new internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, while accelerating the roll out of charge points and supporting the second-hand electric vehicle (EV) market by standardising information on the condition of batteries.

These measures will create greater certainty and a brighter economic picture for potential adopters, manufacturers and infrastructure planners, accelerating utilisation of public charge points meaning better return on investment for charge point operators (CPOs) and much needed increased revenues.

Measures to boost confidence in the second-hand EV market (set to boom in the coming years) are welcome, with a report Steer prepared for the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) listing better information on second hand batteries as a key recommendation.

However, there is a need to expand the focus of the EV transition beyond private vehicles. The Association of Fleet Professionals (AFP) has indicated that the 2035 ban on ICE vans urgently needs more government support if the UK’s 4.7 million models are to be electrified. 

Why not join us for our 'EVs in 30 minutes' event with Toby Poston, Director of Corporate Affairs at BVRLA (British Vehicle Rental & Leasing Association) on Thu 25 Jul, 2.00pm, where we'll be talking about 'Driving adoption under a changing EV policy'. Find out more and register here.

1. £1.8 billion for ports - Steer

The Labour manifesto plans £1.8 billion to upgrade ports and build supply chains across the UK. 

Ports are key assets for the UK and upgraded port infrastructure will support UK exports and further integrate the UK economy into international supply chains, with inland rail connectivity playing a key role in creating a modern, sustainable and integrated UK transport system. 

Port upgrades can also boost local economies by providing high-quality jobs and through investing in clean energy hubs ports can support the UK journey to a Net Zero economy. 

Elsewhere, airports are to be run with a ‘business as usual’ approach with a promise to secure the UK aviation industry's long-term future, with the promotion of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) a key initiative for decarbonising the sector. 

What we’d like to see

Beyond the headlines there are some glaring omissions across transport, infrastructure and more that we’re left with questions on. One key area lacking is a commitment to new local transport plan (LTP) guidance. The current 2009 advice is outdated, and an overhaul would help local transport authorities plan for the contemporary landscape that sees multiple modes competing for funding and space. 

On a similar note, an incoming government must address the ad hoc contemporary landscape of shared micromobility and light electric modes such as e-scooters, recognising the low-cost and low-carbon transit they provide whilst allowing devolved regions and cities greater control on shared micromobility fleets. 

There are also controversial and sticky issues to be answered such as the locations for proposed new town developments, now-toxic motorist-related issues of air quality in urban centres and increasing congestion, the HS2 cancellation debacle to resolve, the probable return of runway capacity in the Southeast issue, and complex and affordability challenge of resolving industrial action and fare and ticketing reform for the rail industry.

Some big commitments have been made in the area of clean energy with the establishment of GB Energy, alongside broad promises on renewables. GB energy could be a route to energising local retrofit plans and support the rollout of initiatives by local authorities, but this can only happen if financing is made available. 

Relaxation of planning restrictions and removing the ban on onshore wind developments is also a welcome move. Labour has stated it will work with the private sector to double onshore wind, triple solar power, and quadruple offshore wind, but the building blocks for delivering this ambitious vision are yet to be announced. 

Overall, Labour’s vision seems to promote joined up mobility, urban development, economic growth and a sustainable future. In five years, we’ll know if they can deliver.

Join the conversation 

Join us for our 'Election Reflections in 30 minutes' events series, where we'll be engaging with key industry leaders on the UK's election outcomes, exploring developments across cities, infrastructure and transport.

The sessions will be short and impactful - providing you with timely insights on all the key issues in no longer than the time it takes to enjoy an extended coffee break. 

Election reflections - Steer webinars

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