Today’s announcement of a £14billion spending spree on the nation’s railway marks a surprising turn-around for Philip Hammond, the man who once promised to be the face of a thousand dartboards for the cuts he would make.
As Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury in opposition, the Transport Secretary promised to attack the deficit so aggressively that he would become a national figure of hate – not least amongst his cabinet colleagues whose budgets he would decimate. But when the coalition agreement resulted in his job going to Liberal Democrat David Laws, Hammond found himself at the Department for Transport, having to work out how to protect his budget.
Those who feared he might resist the urge to go native and instead apply his previous cutting zeal to his own budget worried needlessly it seems today. Confirmation of funding for the full Thameslink project, new rolling stock for both Thameslink and Crossrail, and the electrification of the first stretch of the Great Western Mainline and the lines between Liverpool, Manchester, Preston and Blackpool was rare good news in an otherwise austere climate.
Yet Hammond might still get his day on the dartboard. To secure the funding he needed from the Treasury, he had to agree that the travelling public would pay a share through above inflation fare rises. Whilst these kick in from next year, the benefits that they pay for will be much slower in being felt, with electrification not completing until the year after the next general election and Thameslink being delayed until two years after that. As passenger numbers – and overcrowding – continue to rise in the meantime, Passenger Focus labelled today’s announcement as jams today and jam tomorrow. With various ministers’ constituencies strung along the commuter lines that will be full of commuters paying more for even less space, it seems Hammond might be unpopular with colleagues for some time to come.