On Tuesday, Queen Elizabeth II delivered a 10-minute speech to the UK as part of the State Opening of Parliament ceremony, which set outs the new parliamentary year.
Called the Queen’s Speech, Her Majesty’s intervention is considered a formal way for the British Government to set out its plan for the year and the bills it wants Parliament to approve.
In this year’s address, the first since Boris Johnson’s election in December 2019, the Queen’s Speech focused on how to deliver post-Covid recovery to make the UK “stronger, healthier and more prosperous than before.”
Among the many themes it touched upon, levelling the differences between different parts of the country in terms of connectivity was at the top of the list.
“My Government will strengthen the economic ties across the union, investing in and improving national infrastructure,” read the speech. “Proposals will be taken forward to transform connectivity by rail and bus.”
The speech received mixed reactions from the railway sector, with some stakeholders applauding the government’s decision to put rail at the top of the agenda and others questioning Boris Johnson and his government regarding job cuts and downsizing.
“Rail companies want to work with the government to make fares easier for passengers, further boosting connectivity” – Rail Delivery Group (RDG)
Rail industry membership body RDG director-general Andy Bagnal commented the Queen’s speech reiterating the industry’s willingness to work alongside the government.
“We want to work with the government as part of the planned reform of the railway to further boost connectivity by making fares easier for passengers – allowing people to mix and match fares to get the best deal for their needs and introducing London style tap-in-tap-out capping for commuters in towns and cities across the country.”
“[Words] must now be met with action as we focus on rebalancing our economy and improving transport links” – Transport for the North
In a statement, Transport for the North acting chief executive Tim Wood applauded the government’s decision to put the need for levelling up and transforming connectivity in the UK by rail on the agenda but said that words needed to be met with real action.
“We now need to see commitment to these aims in the upcoming Integrated Rail Plan, including backing the full HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail networks,” he commented.
“Alongside a sustained pipeline of investment in our roads and active travel provision, this will support the cross-cutting themes of economic recovery and growth out of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as increasing skills and opportunities for the North’s communities.”
Wood, who represents the country’s first sub-national transport body, also welcomed Downing Street’s Environment Bill, which will set out binding environmental targets to help the UK become net-zero by 2050.
“Green growth is a big challenge, and one that is a key area of focus for Transport for the North,” Wood continued. “Our upcoming Decarbonisation Strategy provides a strong evidence base and a clear plan for how cutting carbon emissions can be achieved and offers a vision for future transport networks that will tackle the climate emergency.”
“To ‘build back better’ and level up all parts of the UK, it is essential HS2 is delivered in its entirety alongside other key rail projects” – Railway Industry Association (RIA)
RIA chief executive Darren Caplan has welcomed the government’s confirmation that the Williams Review White Paper, a report that details Downing Street’s plan for the post-Covid recovery of rail, will be published soon, and that will bring investment and improvements to the national infrastructure.
Caplan, however, asked the government to provide clarification on the eastern leg of the High Speed 2 (HS2) project, which aims to connect London to the rest of England.
“However, whilst HS2 is described today as being at the heart of the country’s plans to build back better from coronavirus, the Queen’s Speech omits any reference to the eastern leg of the scheme, which takes the high-speed network to Leeds,” he said.
“We, therefore, urge the government to clarify whether the eastern Leg will be included in forthcoming legislation, with the publication of the Integrated Rail Plan for the Midlands and North a priority.”
According to RIA, not only towns and people depend on the full completion of the HS2 project but also businesses.
“To ‘build back better’ and level up all parts of the UK, it is essential HS2 is delivered in its entirety alongside other key rail projects – otherwise we risk missing out on the jobs, investment and economic growth that rail can unleash in the post-pandemic years ahead,” he concluded.
“This government’s priorities don’t lie with passenger interests and key transport workers” – the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT)
“This Queen’s Speech was the government’s opportunity to commit to a historic mass investment in public transport to drive our country forward out of the Covid-19 crisis whilst leading in the fight against climate change in the year of the vital COP26 conference. Instead, we’ve got a paper-thin speech that masks the reality of their cuts agenda across our railways and bus sectors.”
With these words, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch accused the UK Government of not mentioning planned cuts across the railway and bus sectors. According to the trade union – which represents workers in the maritime, transport and rail sectors – Network Rail, the infrastructure manager of most of the UK’s railways, is planning cuts that will impact jobs as well as safety standards, including the reduction of maintenance work.
“This Queen’s Speech confirms where this government’s priorities lie and it clearly isn’t with passenger interests and the heroic key transport workers that have kept our country moving throughout the Covid-19 pandemic,” Lynch added.