In common with, well, everyone, my first reaction to Philip Hammond being appointed Transport Secretary was 'uh oh' - Hammond is a long term hardcore small state Thatcherite with substantial wealth whose 'expertise' was entirely around financial and property and who represents a wealthy car-dependent constituency just outside the M25. It's safe to say he had hitherto never crossed anyone's mind as a possible successor to (ex-SNPer) Lord Adonis, who was perfectly OK once Gordon Brown took him out of education. The suspicion was that he was in the DfT to take a very big axe to things, which would stand him in good stead if, in the future, the inconvenient
David Laws Danny Alexander should fall under a bus newspaper smear operation. I'll illustrate this with two snippets. The first shows that the ghastly suspicion that in place of the scared New Labour media neurosis of placating the tabloid tiger with authoritarian titbits we now have a Government involving quite a few people who actually believe the Daily Mail prints accurate stories. Via ipayroadtax.com:
I have it on very good authority that a senior civil servant in the Department of Transport patiently explained the intricacies of roads funding to Mr Hammond when he was appointed to his role earlier this year. He was told that the term ‘cyclists don’t pay road tax’ is wrong on many levels.
The 'cyclists don't pay road tax' fallacy is sufficiently widespread for my other half to come out with it the other day, to her bored cost. It has practical consequences, too, of increasing conflict and stress on the roads as selfish Clarkson types see cyclists invading their space 'without paying', and is thus presumably something a responsible Transport Secretary would hope to correct. In reality, if he's being picked up on this by Boris Johnson he's really not done his homework.
The other snippet is a rumour from Christian Wolmar that Hammond is the amongst the first to agree his cuts package with the Treasury, which means he's chosen not to fight and instead is acting as the Treasury's man in place. Quite what he can cut is going to be fun finding out, for a given definition of fun. Christian doesn't expect him to hang around to see the consequences:
Talking to a well informed source at the Rail awards last night, I learnt that the Department for Transport has become one of the first departments to agree a budget with the Treasury. The transport secretary, Philip Hammond, has not only accepted the Treasury figure, but he has done so quickly because he wanted to jump over the table to sit on the other side of the Star Chamber. So now he will sit alongside Osborne and Alexander pronouncing on the budgets of other departments.
New trains would appear to be off the agenda - Roger Ford of Modern Railways is sensibly reanimating his former policy of counting the days since the last train order was placed, currently 536, in confident anticipation of matching the previous disastrous period post-privatisation that saw severe damage done to the UK's train building industry.
Then there's a fight between Boris Johnson, as boss of TfL and the desire of the junior coalition partner to spare northern cities where local Lib Dems can see votes walking out the door unless Norman Baker pulls something out of the hat. Indeed, Baker is someone I've got a lot of time for, easily the most impressive performer at the Rail Hustings in March and someone who genuinely gets it on transport, which is sufficiently rare in a UK politician to allow one to overlook some of his wilder enthusiasms. We'll see if that translates to more than a bit of rotting meat flung his way to cook up into something placatory.
Then there's the structure of the railways as a whole, a massive money pit due to the straitjacket of a botched privatisation and with no real appetite for a fundamental shake up. It's only five years since the last one and only just into the current Control Period of rail funding when everyone takes a breather and it would inevitably cost a fortune. Longer franchises, less accountability, less investment and higher fares here, but you wouldn't put it past them to try and flog Network Rail off again, after that went *so well* last time.
Finally there's the roads - well, there's a bit of cash spent in stimulus on roads projects that's probably gone, but beyond that? A few PR friendly attacks on the non-existent 'war on the motorist' won't disguise high fuel duty for ever, and in London we're already seeing councils forced by DCLG cuts to raise money from parking permits and fines while TfL is filling the hole by hiking car park charges, neatly contradicting Hammond's Daily Mail friendly position for him. I'll be watching for the future of the PFI deal cooked up for Hounslow's roads with interest.
Still, Petrolhead Phil won't mind - as Alex pointed out a year ago in a follow up to an excellent piece on saying goodbye to his then-MP, he's done very nicely out of the public sector already, thanks. He'll be able to afford to get around, even if we can't.