Impact of the general election on rail

The result

Labour has won a commanding majority in the general election, with Keir Starmer now Prime Minister after delivering Labour’s biggest victory since 1997. However, the situation is very different from 1997. While the majority is huge, it is also frail. Labor and the Conservatives have polled their lowest since 1918; it was an election of apathy towards both main parties. The Conservatives performed slightly better than many anticipated, which, along with the surge of Reform (they came second in 98 seats) and the growth of other parties like the Lib Dems and Greens, means that the next general election is in no way a foregone conclusion.

This is important because it will significantly impact how Labour chooses to govern. They will need to focus on unifying voters and solidifying their support, which will most likely lead to them occupying more of the centre ground. Do not expect anything radical quickly.


Labour’s main priorities for Government

Growth will be the priority for this Government. Boosting growth is crucial; without it, the new Government will struggle to generate the necessary tax revenue for the improvements it wants to make to public services. Expect this issue to dominate in the first year. There will be a clearer picture of how they intend to do this in the next budget (expected in mid-late September at the earliest). We do, however, expect infrastructure (and potentially rail) to play a major part in the new Government’s push for growth.

Another key priority, not necessarily by choice, will be getting control of public spending and borrowing, a looming issue. From what the party has stated, we should not expect the spending taps to turn on anytime soon. Other key priorities will be energy, climate and health care.


What happens next for rail?

Over the next hundred days, you can expect a flurry of announcements, including a new Rail Reform Bill, which will be set out in the King’s Speech on 17 July and will give some clarity on the new Government’s initial priorities for rail. After this, we expect things to slow significantly. Rail is not at the top of the political agenda, and it is unlikely to get parliamentary time for the necessary legislation on issues like GBR in the next few months.

We expect a period of consultation on GBR and other rail issues to follow the King’s Speech – particularly on the new rail reform bill, which will be needed to deliver GBR.


Key dates
  • The King’s Speech – July 17th
  • Budget – mid to late September and not before September 13th


What’s Labour’s longer-term plan for rail?

From NSARS’s engagement with Labour, we have some insight into their broad aspirations for rail. Primarily, they view rail as a tool for delivering economic growth, which is the party’s headline policy. Accordingly, they are very likely to concentrate on new rail infrastructure. Owing to the tight spending climate outlined previously, Labour wants the private sector to play a more significant role in rail, and we anticipate the new Government bringing about reforms to attract this investment.

The party also made the following key manifesto pledges, which are likely to be implemented over the next five years:

  • A ten-year infrastructure strategy, including improving rail connectivity across the north of England.
  • Bringing train lines into public ownership.
  • Create a new National Infrastructure and Service Transformation Authority.
  • The creation of a new passenger watchdog.
  • New roles for mayors to design rail services in their areas.
  • A duty to promote and grow the use of rail freight.

Other key policy announcements include:

  • Labour plans to merge NIC and IPA into a ‘powerful’ new infrastructure delivery body.


Key Legislation

Key legislation pertinent to the rail industry is expected to be introduced in the first 100 days.

  • Updating the National Policy Planning Framework: Labour plan to amend the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and the list of nationally significant infrastructure investments.
  • Introduce a Race Equality Act: Labour has promised this act will impose a duty on public bodies, to collect and report data on staffing, pay and outcomes by ethnicity.
  • Legislation to Implement a New Deal for Working People: The party has described this as the biggest upgrade to workers’ rights in a generation.


Changes to key rail policymakers and new ministers 

Louise Haigh – New Secretary of State for Transport

Louise Haigh was elected as the Labour MP for Sheffield Heeley in 2015. Haigh became the Shadow Secretary of State for Transport in November 2021. Before this, she served in the Shadow Cabinet as the Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland from 2020 to 2021.

From 2017 to 2020, she was the Shadow Minister for Policing under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

Born in 1987, Haigh attended Sheffield High School and the University of Nottingham. Before her election to Parliament, she worked as a youth worker and union official with Unite. The new Secretary of State is on the soft left of the Labour Party.

Stephen Morgan MP – New Minister of State for Rail (TBC)

Stephen Morgan has been the Labour MP for Portsmouth South since 2017. Before Parliament, he worked in local government and the nonprofit sector.

Morgan has served in several Shadow Minister positions for Local Government, Armed Forces and Schools. As of September 2023, he is the Shadow Minister of State for Rail. While Stephen Morgan is expected to be appointed Rail Minister, the appointment has not been made at the time of writing.


Changes to other Stakeholders

This election has also significantly changed the makeup of key policymakers. We already knew of some prominent figures standing down, such as former Rail Minister Huw Merriman, but this election result has given birth to further change. Several MPs active on rail have lost their seats, including the most recent chair of the Transport Select Committee, Iain Stewart, and committee members Chris Loder and Jack Brereton. Former Transport Secretaries Mark Harper and Grant Shapps have also lost their seats. Martin Vickers, Chair of the Rail APPG, has held his seat.

There are also changes to key skills policymakers – both the skills minister and education secretary have lost their seats, as has Apprenticeships APPG chair Jonathan Gullis. Skills APPG Chair, Sir John Hayes MP, has kept his seat, as has FE APPG chair, Peter Aldous.

There are some additions to the House. Blair-era minister Jacqui Smith has returned as an education minister, having previously held various skills, industry and education-focused ministerial roles. Former Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander has also returned as a junior minister in the Department for Business and Trade.

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