McLoughlin the 'survivor' looks back without anger


Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin was called a survivor by the chair of the Commons transport select committee – although in truth he was under minimal threat from the cross-party MPs this time.

The last meeting of the committee before the end of parliament was intended as a kind of overview of the last five years. At the start Louise Ellman pointed out to him he is now the longest serving secretary of state for transport since Alistair Darling held the post from 2002-2006 before asking that most softball of all questions ‘what are you most proud of?’

The list he gave seemed relatively modest under the circumstances and celebrated local government schemes alongside the cornerstone High Speed Rail Preparation (paving) Act – if that bill had failed he certainly would be a survivor.

Among his top local schemes was community bus funding and the recent £4m Total Transport Pilot Fund – described as making ‘a start on how we link up all the transport in an area’.

Perhaps the most controversial moment of the session focussed on shared space schemes and disability access, with the secretary floundering somewhat as he conceded his department needed to do more.

Ms Ellman reminded him: ‘The committee asked back in 2013 for the Government to review the Inclusive mobility guidance [for disabled transport and pedestrian access] that in fact has not been revised since 2005. We were told that would be done but it hasn’t.’

She pressed on, asking if the secretary was aware that blind and partially sighted people ‘are extremely concerned about the dangers posed’ by shared space areas.

Many feel ‘they can no longer go into certain areas of their town because of the shared spaces design - they feel they are being excluded and they don’t think any one is listening’, the chair said.

Mr McLoughlin responded: ‘We need to try and reassure those people and those bodies that are concerned about it that we will bear in mind their access.

‘Some areas where we have seen shared spaces, we have also seen a general improvement in the environment but if there are certain groups that feel they are not getting the benefit of that then we need to look at it.’

He did concede that the Department for Transport needed ‘to review and update the guidance that we are giving’ and assured the committee he would start enquiries to that effect as ‘we are committed to reviewing and updating Inclusive mobility’.

Ms Ellman did not push Mr McLoughlin greatly on the delay but it was suggested local authorities had been left in a difficult position and in need of more leadership from the department.

The Government’s abolition of road safety targets was also a controversial move, which was left for Mr McLoughlin to defend when he took the post. However he suggested to the committee he was unlikely to reverse his predecessor’s decision.

‘I don't necessarily think that targets are the right way forward. There are other modes we can look at - safety cameras, telematics. Allowing technology to take a more prominent role is something I certainly want to encourage.’

The secretary gave succour to local authorities hoping for rail devolution, stating the process that started with the 29 local authorities of Rail North was seen as a ‘roll out’.

Although he did warn groups such as Rail North and other consortia that there ‘can sometimes be a concern it is just the urban areas that are pushing their interests and everyone else will suffer’.

‘I don’t think that is the case but it is one of those things when looking at the whole issue of rail devolution we have got to be assured that they are representing the views of the whole area not just the big cities.’

Having lasted so long, Mr McLoughlin may be at home in the post now. However with so many major reforms and national projects in the offing after the election, it is the next five years that could really mark him – or an opposition number – as a true political survivor.


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