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Reflecting on the party conference season, Jo Field compares transport policy announcements and insights from the Labour and Conservative party conferences.

At first glance, the conferences couldn’t have been more different.

The atmosphere at Labour was upbeat, with the party convinced they are on the verge of power. Jeremy Corbyn looked very much like a Prime Minister in waiting.

Contrast this with Theresa May’s nightmare speech yesterday. It was a sorry end to a conference that lacked atmosphere.

But what are the key transport learnings from the conferences? Aside from big differences such as Labour’s commitment to renationalise the railways, the two parties agree on many areas of transport policy.

Putting the passenger first

I found this especially interesting. The transport sector is a customer service industry, and the Tories clearly wanted to recognise this in their messaging. 'Putting the passenger first' was a central thread running through the Conservative’s transport narrative. Transport Ministers said the Government is delivering improvements passengers want. Examples are more capacity, new trains, new routes and services and smart ticketing. The message from the Conservatives is the Labour Party doesn’t care about the passenger.

Interesting. When asked whether a renationalised rail network would resemble the bad old days of British Rail, Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald said the new network would have fully supportive and inclusive staff. This suggests a focus on supporting passengers.

‘Service’ and delivering for the customer featured in Shadow Rail Minister Rachael Maskell's fringe speeches. An example of this is when Ms Maskell said a Labour Government would embrace new technology. But that didn’t meant they’d abandon customer service.

And London’s Deputy Mayor for Transport, Val Shawcross said better customer experience should be a priority. She said passengers should be at the heart of transport policy making.

Rail investment

On Monday, the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, announced £300m funding for rail improvements in the North of England.

Following this, Transport Ministers said Government is becoming more strategic in planning transport. In his conference speech, Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling said HS2 would link Northern Powerhouse Rail and Crossrail 2.

And, in fringe meetings, Rail Minister, Paul Maynard noted HS2 is part of an economic renaissance. It is not happening in isolation and is part of a vision to improve connectivity in the North.

Similarly, at the Labour Party Conference, the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell committed to building Crossrail for the North. (This is the same scheme as Northern Powerhouse Rail but with a different name). He also confirmed a Labour government would extend HS2 into Scotland.

Shadow Transport Secretary, Andy McDonald said he supported HS2 and Crossrail 2. He said HS2 fits the Labour Party's ambitions to maximise the economy of Northern England. But HS2 wouldn’t happen in isolation and would connect to Crossrail for the North. He also announced HS2 would be part of a fully re-nationalised rail system under a Labour Government. (Clearly, the two parties don’t agree on this point!)

 
Connectivity

Transport connectivity was another issue that featured at both party conferences. There was much discussion about how rail connects to the bus network, and walking and cycling. Fringes at both conferences discussed the need for transport schemes that unlock housing.

Conservative Rail Minister Paul Maynard said housing will be at the heart of HS2. And the scheme will transform the geography of our economy.

And at Labour, Andy McDonald said inner-city connections were good but connectivity between major urban hubs was poor. This held back development of the whole system. He noted his commitment to improving connectivity.

Shadow Rail Minister, Rachael Maskell called for 'seamless connectivity' between different modes of transport. This included buses, walking and cycling.

Skills

As you would expect, skills featured high on the agenda of both party conferences. Many of the key speeches and fringes included discussion of the issue. 

Chris Grayling's speech noted HS2 “provides a fantastic opportunity for the next generation." He said young engineers could be "part of projects that will last a lifetime, and which they can look back on with pride in later years.”

On the fringes at Labour, Shadow Transport Secretary, Andy McDonald said HS2 offers a massive skills opportunity. Many young people will have the opportunity to spend their entire career in high speed rail.

Discussing diversity, the Rail Minister, Paul Maynard said the rail industry workforce needed to be more diverse.

Shadow Rail Minister Rachael Maskell supports addressing gender imbalance in the transport sector. When we asked about getting more women in the transport workforce, Ms Maskell agreed. She said getting more women in transport leadership roles was especially important.

Looking to the future

So, as an industry we can be confident that the Government and the Opposition share many of our concerns. But we need to continue making the case for investment and listening and engaging with our customers and stakeholders.