The cabinet is out and about today, trying to smooth feathers ruffled by last week’s Lords reform row by splashing out on £9 billion worth of investment for railways. Today’s announcement by David Cameron and Nick Clegg is, as much as anything else, an attempt to put into practice the Prime Minister’s claim yesterday that the coalition is still capable of making real progress on big issues, despite differences on constitutional reform.
Handily for Nick Clegg, today’s announcement may also encourage some friendly feelings from his own constituents, as it includes electrifying the line between Bedford to Sheffield. But the work isn’t starting tomorrow, which means this announcement could be quickly forgotten once the next row flares up back in Westminster. There are concerns that work might not begin until 2014.
The other problem is how the upgrades will be funded. Today’s £9 billion announcement includes £4.2 billion of previously unannounced spending. Transport Secretary Justine Greening was on the Today programme earlier insisting that it ‘does have funding behind it from track access charges and also from the network grant which is how we fund the railways’. But she added that there ‘is no money tree’ and that ‘for the time being passengers are paying’. Higher fares will be awkward for the government approaching the next election.
It’s not all sweetness and light today, though, even on transport. As James revealed in his column yesterday, Number 10 and Number 11 are being driven ‘to distraction’ by Greening’s opposition to a third runway at Heathrow. And the Transport Secretary stood her ground this morning, saying: ‘The coalition agreement still stands that there is no policy for a third runway.’
She said she would be a ‘funny Transport Secretary’ if she took a different line to the government. But if those she has frustrated in Downing Street get their way, she might find herself disagreeing with government policy from a different job in the cabinet.Tags: Justine Greening, Railways, Transport, UK politics