A bold vision for water, environment and transport

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald shared Labour’s vision for the future at UNISON’s water, environment and transport service group conference

portrait of Andy McDonald

If Labour wins the next election, it will to transform the water, environment and transport industries, shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald promised UNISON activists at the union’s WET service group conference in Brighton.

He told delegates that the relentless pursuit of profit over public service will end and the water utilities and railways will be renationalised. There will also be a new agenda for buses, promoting municipally owned companies, new routes and cheaper fares.

The party is already working with the Labour-controlled metropolitan authorities on plans to transform cities so that emissions will be reduced and city centres will not be clogged with vehicles, he said.

The focus will be upon increasing public transport, cycling and walking and buses will be key to the programme’s success.

“This government has reduced tax incentives on low emission vehicles, increased its road building programme and cut support for bus services,” said Mr McDonald.

“While around 1.7 billion train journeys are made by train each year, there are about five billion journeys made by bus. More women, the socially excluded and isolated communities rely on buses to get around,” he continued.

“Buses can make the difference between people getting to work or not.

“The Tories have done their best to destroy bus services and push them into a spiral of decline through disastrous deregulation, the catastrophic loss of services and fare rises.”

If Labour wins the next election, the party will reverse these cuts, introduce free bus fares for under 25s “and provide revenue for better services.”

To fund this ambitious vision, Labour has been working on a “rigorous  implementation and costing programme” over the last seven months, said Mr McDonald.

At its heart, are plans to use the £46bn vehicle excise duty fund – currently used for road building – to develop a sustainable travel fund.

“There is currently no vision for public transport at a national level,” said the shadow secretary of state. “Yet a visit to Europe shows how public transport with long term planning can and does work with services integrated at a local, regional and national level.

“The recent and ongoing chaos on the railways would be something of the past,” said Mr McDonald. “Labour plans would put an end to this nonsense.

“The railways should be dedicated to providing public service, not profits for shareholders. We want a fully integrated railway which will be developed and operate as a whole.”

The shadow transport minister added: “Unlike the current government, we would take responsibility for getting people to their destination.”

In particular, Mr McDonald spoke of ending enforced unsafe driver-only operations, which have been forced on rail workers without consultation and completely disregard disabled access and passenger safety.

Addressing delegates in the audience from the environment and water industries, Mr McDonald said that Labour would also put a halt to “the worst period for environmental policies in three decades”.

“Whilst UNISON workers have been doing such a valuable job protecting natural resources from flooding, the Tories have shown utter disregard for environmental resources, which are being sold off or exploited.”

Mr McDonald spelled out the catastrophic failure of the privatised water companies, where high executive pay and shareholder profits have been pursued relentlessly at the expense of customer service, worker rights and the environment.

“Water should be seen as a human right and not a source of profit,” he said. “Since privatisation, water bills have risen by 40%, while shareholders have been paid £18bn in dividends and customers are being held to ransom.”

Mr McDonald said that Labour is exploring a number of options to bring the water industry back into public ownership, including offering bonds for shares.

“There is no market resolution of the price paid for water companies and ultimately it will be an area for parliament, not business.”

On workers’ rights and protection, Labour is committed to ensuring a more secure future for workers in the water industry, he pledged.

“Pensions will be protected, there will be greater investment in infrastructure, staffing will be increased, improvements will be in-sourced and collective bargaining valued.

“Bringing water back under public ownership is the only solution.”