We've been here before


It's become a truism of transport ministers that they end up reannouncing old schemes over and over again. Sometimes even their own.

Of course this has something to do with the timescales of the sector, but even so, there was some impressive sleight of hand from ministers at the Conservative Party conference this week that not merely demonstrated how easy it is to get a headline with a re-announcement but other old tricks...

...such as dressing up the North’s share of funding as special treatment and describing the replacement of paper tickets with plastic ones as ‘smart’.

To give chancellor Philip Hammond his due, the Treasury’s announcement of ‘£400m of extra funding’ for transport improvements across the Northern Powerhouse does appear to have included £300m of extra funding, in the form of cash ‘towards ensuring HS2 infrastructure can accommodate future Northern Powerhouse Rail and Midlands Connect services’.

But it was soon clear that £100m ‘towards local road schemes to bust congestion pinch-points and speed up journeys’ was money from the National Productivity Investment Fund. So not only had it been announced previously but also it was no more than the North’s share of the cash.


The Treasury confirmed that the £100m was part of £490m from the NPIF that is due to be announced in ‘early autumn 2017’. In that context, it doesn’t seem the ministers have been particularly generous towards the three regions that make up ‘the North’.

The Department for Transport will be announcing the rest of the cash soon.

Something very similar happened in January when the North's share of Local Growth funding was announced in advance of other regions.

Given the controversy that Transport Network has previously reported around ministers’ demands that councils bid competitively for this cash, the Treasury’s spin on the Government’s cherry-picking of bids was pretty brazen: ‘These have been proposed by local leaders who know their areas best and illustrated how this investment will be of the greatest benefit to local people to improve journeys and help support jobs.’

Proposed by local leaders, cherry picked by Government.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling didn’t so much re-announce an £80m plan to bring in ‘smart ticketing’ on the railway as make an announcement without announcing anything of substance. He claimed that he was ‘setting out details of our £80m programme to bring smart ticketing… using mobile phones, barcodes and smartcards across almost all of the rail network by the end of next year’.

One of Mr Grayling’s advisers has since confirmed that there are no further details on smart ticketing 'yet' and that they will be published 'in due course'. For those who don't know 'in due course' is Whitehall speak for 'when we can get around to it, now go away'.  

The timetable for bringing in ‘smart ticketing’ by the end of 2018 could be seen a new development...if it hadn't been said before... and actually meant smart ticketing across the whole network.

In reality, Mr Grayling is suggesting there will be an alternative to paper tickets, although these alternatives will not necessarily provide interoperability. So in fact these new digital tickets will be just as dumb as their paper ancestors.   

What Mr Grayling didn’t say, although it was reportedly in a briefing note from the Conservatives, was that he was ‘challenging the industry to accelerate proposals for the next generation of interoperable, pay-as-you-go smart ticketing systems’.

This gets to the nub of what isn’t happening with smart ticketing. As Transport Network has pointed out again and again, for which we apologise, most of what ministers describe as ‘smart ticketing’ does little more than giving passengers a plastic ticket instead of a paper one, with additional physical resilience but little by way of flexibility or interoperability between rail companies and other transport providers.

Which brings us to the scandalous South East Flexible Ticketing (SEFT) scheme, which also had a budget of £80m but achieved very little by way of genuine ‘smart’ ticketing. Exactly 20 months ago, Mr Grayling’s predecessor Patrick McLoughlin said of SEFT: ‘We’ve now reached a point where future development can be led by the private sector.’

That may explain why Mr Grayling did not, after all, challenge the rail industry to accelerate the introduction of genuinely smart ticketing. He did however say: ‘Our railways haven’t made nearly enough progress in using new technology for rail tickets.’

Finally a bit of candour to cut through the spin.

Register now for full access

Register just once to get unrestricted, real-time coverage of the issues and challenges facing UK transport and highways engineers.

Full website content includes the latest news, exclusive commentary from leading industry figures and detailed topical analysis of the highways, transportation, environment and place-shaping sectors. Use the link below to register your details for full, free access.

Already a registered? Login

comments powered by Disqus
highways jobs

Environment Officer

Kirklees Metropolitan Council
£29,909 – £32,233 Grade 11 - £33,136 - £35,229
All Environment Officers lead, project manage and/or co-ordinate large environmental projects... Huddersfield, West Yorkshire
Recuriter: Kirklees Metropolitan Council

MCA Hub Co-ordinator

Camden London Borough Council
£40,028 - £46,431
You will lead on the co-ordination of the North and Central Area Mayor’s Construction Academy (MCA) Hub. London (Greater)
Recuriter: Camden London Borough Council

Highways Estimator

Competitive Salary
As the Highways Estimator you will join a busy environment and become an integral part of the team. Hounslow (London Borough), London (Greater)
Recuriter: Ringway

County Highways Manager

Lincolnshire County Council
£55,503 - £60,578
Seeking a highly motivated leader and an excellent communicator, who has a proven ability to build relationships and trust, leading by example. Lincolnshire
Recuriter: Lincolnshire County Council

Local Highways Manager (East) - Lincolnshire County Council

Lincolnshire County Council
G12 £43,662 - £50,430
Seeking someone who combines excellent technical knowledge with a dedication to the customer. Lincolnshire
Recuriter: Lincolnshire County Council

Assistant Director (Planning, Regeneration & Transport)

Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council
£87,791 per annum  
This is an exciting time to join Rotherham and make a real difference. We are looking for an outstanding Assistant Director who will bring... Rotherham, South Yorkshire
Recuriter: Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council

Corporate Director

Islington London Borough Council
Up to £135k
You will share our values and be passionate about helping us shape the Islington of the future. Islington, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Islington London Borough Council

Assistant Engineer

Cambridgeshire County Council
£21,074 - £30,756
Looking for strong team players interested in working with a variety of professional and community partners across Cambridgeshire. Cambridgeshire
Recuriter: Cambridgeshire County Council

Junior Energy Manager Apprentice

Brent Council
£15,000 p.a. inc.
The right person for this job will be pro-active and innovative in finding a way forward. Wembley, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Brent Council

Career Grade Drainage Engineer

Swindon Borough Council
£19,092 to £40,680 p.a
Working in the asset management team, you’ll support the work of the Lead Local Flood Authority (LLFA) and Highways Authority. Swindon, Wiltshire
Recuriter: Swindon Borough Council

Highway Construction Project Manager

Brent Council
£50,442 - £53,526 p.a. inc.
We are looking for an accomplished highway construction project manager to support the delivery of two high priority highway schemes. Brent, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Brent Council

Traffic Signals & UTMC Manager

Bristol City Council
£42,683 - £45,591
Looking for someone with proven management experience, enthusiasm, creativity, vision and good communication skills. City of Bristol
Recuriter: Bristol City Council

Principal Highways Project Engineer

Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council
£34,106 - £35,229 per annum
The post holder will be responsible for project managing the delivery of two highway projects on the Key Route Network. Knowsley (Metropolitan borough), Merseyside
Recuriter: Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council

Traffic Schemes Officer

Oxfordshire County Council
£22,021 - £29,636 per annum
An exciting opportunity has arisen to play a central role with the Traffic Team in the maintenance of the highway network... Kidlington, Oxfordshire
Recuriter: Oxfordshire County Council

Traffic Engineer

Telford & Wrekin Council
£29,055 to £30,756
This is an exciting opportunity to join Telford & Wrekin Council’s Traffic Management Team! Telford, Shropshire
Recuriter: Telford & Wrekin Council

Assistant Engineer – Traffic Regulation

Telford & Wrekin Council
£23,866 to £25,463
This is an exciting opportunity to join Telford & Wrekin Council’s Traffic Management Team. Telford, Shropshire
Recuriter: Telford & Wrekin Council

Highways Quantity Surveyor

Leicester City Council
£30,756 - £33,136 pro-rata per annum
Working in the Highways Maintenance Group, you will be responsible for the operational highway maintenance activities Leicester, Leicestershire
Recuriter: Leicester City Council

Highways Engineer/Inspector

Royal Borough of Greenwich
£22956 - £32637 per annum
Highways Engineer/Inspector - PermanentThere are plenty of reasons to take a closer look at Royal Greenwich.Royal Greenwich is undergoing a huge trans England, London, Woolwich
Recuriter: Royal Borough of Greenwich

Engineer - Bridges

Cambridgeshire County Council
£32,825 - £35,401
We have a vacancy for a Structures Engineer working within the Bridge’s team! Cambridgeshire
Recuriter: Cambridgeshire County Council


Cambridgeshire County Council
£32,825 - £35,401
You will be required to lead the delivery of a wide range of highway improvements and maintenance projects... Cambridgeshire
Recuriter: Cambridgeshire County Council