Transport: Driving growth and connectivity

Jason Hurst
public transport
Transport is a vital enabler of economic growth. The new Government has pledged to implement significant reforms across a number of areas including bus, rail, major infrastructure projects and road.

Under the banner of 'Getting Britain Moving,' Labour's manifesto commits to developing a national transport strategy to provide a network serving the broad national interest — responsive, accountable, and user-focused. Ensuring this strategy is deliverable and that it can improve outcomes for passengers and road users at pace will be a key challenge. The public will expect tangible benefits in the short to medium term. This deep dive offers insights into the immediate transport priorities for the new Government and their practical implications. 


Several Mayoral Combined Authorities are seeking to improve the provision of bus services via bus franchising. Driven by declining demand and service cuts exacerbated by the pandemic, bus franchising allows authorities to control routes and schedules, ensuring service stability with a focus on social inclusion and service certainty. 

The new government aims to increase local authority control over bus services by widening powers for bus franchising beyond metro mayors. This will enable local authorities to introduce bus franchising and accelerate the process set out in the Bus Services Act 2017. Additionally, they plan to lift the ban on municipal ownership, allowing authorities to establish their own bus operators. We would envisage these initiatives, requiring primary legislation, to be a key priority for the Secretary of State for Transport, potentially seeking to pass a bill in the first session. 

These proposals will likely increase the adoption of bus franchising, giving local authorities the autonomy to tailor bus networks to their economies and residents' needs. However, local authorities will require resources and funding to implement bus franchising effectively and reverse declining passenger numbers. Capacity and capability at the local authority level will be a challenge. 

To accelerate franchising, the government should consider short-term actions within the provisions of the Act to help current processes by Mayoral Combined Authorities. In the short to medium term, a more coordinated and consistent rollout of franchising supported by the Department for Transport (DfT) could help local authorities achieve their aims more quickly. For instance, the DfT could design an industry approach that could be tailored by local authorities. 

Another priority will be the funding available in the short and medium term to stabilise the sector, attract operators, and allow local authorities to plan future bus networks. Given multiple funding sources, transport funding should be considered alongside wider funding streams. 

Rail Reform

Despite the Plan for Rail's publication in May 2021, progress in implementing its recommendations has been limited. The new government is committed to pushing forward with rail reforms, aiming to create a simplified structure that prioritises passenger needs and aligns goals, objectives, and incentives around passengers. 

The government plans to establish Great British Railways (GBR), a new arm’s length body to bring together infrastructure and operations, starting with a shadow version of GBR within the first six months. A key policy commitment is to nationalise train operations currently run by the private sector, bringing them under public ownership as existing contracts expire. 

Labour's manifesto anticipates that rail reform could save taxpayers an estimated £2.2 billion annually. Delivering these savings is essential in an environment where public finances are under pressure. The new government aims to ensure the rail network serves the people and the broader national interest, fostering a responsive, accountable, and passenger-focused railway system. 

Rapidly delivering the reform agenda will require a high level of collaboration with key industry stakeholders, including Network Rail, DfT OLR Holdings, and the Great British Railways Transition Team. Siloed working needs to be addressed to deliver at pace. 

Nationalising train operators alone will not solve the challenges facing the railway, such as improving performance or increasing farebox revenues. The government must balance the rapid implementation of reforms with getting them right, using this opportunity to reset and deliver rail reform. This includes balancing the roles of the Secretary of State for Transport and GBR and involving local authorities as part of the devolution agenda. Ensuring incentives are aligned, passengers are central to decisions, and freight receives appropriate focus, is crucial. 

To hold GBR accountable, the government plans to establish a new watchdog, the Passenger Standards Authority, to independently monitor standards and champion service improvements. This body should also ensure cost control, a historical challenge for publicly run entities. 

Major Projects

Driving growth through infrastructure investment is a key focus. The incoming government has pledged to establish a National Infrastructure and Service Transformation Authority to deliver a ten-year infrastructure strategy. This includes 'new roads, railways, reservoirs, and other nationally significant infrastructure.' While Labour’s 'Get Britain Building Again' initiative primarily relates to housing, driven by planning legislation changes, it is closely linked to transport investment.

With limited financial bandwidth, the government must seek innovative solutions to attract private sector investment for these projects. Traditional large-scale campaigns like PFI may not be acceptable, necessitating alternative solutions to be considered. 

Labour's response to Jürgen Maier's review of transport infrastructure delivery will indicate its broader infrastructure approach. The government must consider the 'how' of major transport projects, ensuring a plan that instils confidence among investors and attracts private investment. 


The new Government targets fixing an additional one million potholes annually. Potholes have long challenged the road network, with incidents increasing by 33% in 2023 compared to the previous year. In 2022 and 2023, the UK filled 1.7 million and 1.4 million potholes using a £500 million annual pothole fund. The manifesto's proposed £65 million funding boost may have limited impact, given the scale of the challenge. New technology, such as Milton Keynes City Council's investment in a Roadmaster Elastomac machine, could improve pothole repair speed and quality. 

Driving economic growth and connectivity across the UK

By focusing on buses, rail, major infrastructure projects, and roads, along with ensuring a coordinated, well-resourced implementation, the government can address long-standing challenges and deliver tangible benefits for passengers and road users.

The coming months will be critical in setting the foundations for a more responsive, accountable, and user-focused transport network that serves the national interest. While significant change in these areas will take time, the long-term benefits to users and the wider economy could be significant.