Making Transport Policy in Britain
One of the strengths of the British system of governance is the collective responsibility of ministers for all aspects of the government’s policy; but this collective strength carries with it the consequence that the minister responsible for transport is by no means a free agent. Other ministers, especially the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Chief Secretary (Treasury) and the ministers responsible for planning and local government, for environmental protection and for industrial competitiveness all have a major impact on the shaping of transport policies. Implementation is in the hands of a very wide range of agents in both the public and the private sector, and although the Department of Transport controls some of them directly, its ability to influence others is more limited, particularly after 18 years of Conservative governments committed to ‘rolling back the frontiers of the State’. Between 1979 and 1997 governments turned increasingly to the market to provide competitive transport services subject to a minimum of regulation in the public interest, rejecting coordination by politicians and bureaucrats in departments, councils and corporations. The Labour government elected in May 1997 inherited a structure of government that allows the transport industries more freedom from government control than at any time since at least 1930 and probably since before the First World War.
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