Justine Greening shot to prominence on being elected to Parliament in 2005, for the marginal seat of Putney. A hard-working, committed and photogenic young woman, she positioned herself very much as a Cameroon moderniser, although many Conservative insiders will tell you that her actual politics are somewhere to the right of her leader.
The newest member of what many cynics regard as the “Toff’s Cabinet”, she is proud of her working class, comprehensive school background. Greening is seen as focused and sharp, with an eye for detail and a soft relentlessness that means she gets her way more often than not. Her first job in Government was under George Osborne at the Treasury, and she is believed to be personally loyal to the Chancellor.
Prior to the last election, Greening served in opposition in the Treasury, Work and Pensions and Local Government teams. Her colleagues describe her as being very pro-business, although those who remember her from the “No to a 3rd Runway” campaign may question these credentials.
It will be interesting to see how Greening gets on with her Minister of State, Theresa Villiers, who has now been overlooked for the job of Transport Secretary not once (when the Coalition was formed) but twice. According to reports over the weekend, Ms Villiers found out about her new boss through the media on Friday, which will not have gone down well with the ambitious former MEP.
Ms Villiers is known to have her own views on how many aspects of transport policy should be managed, which often diverged from those of Philip Hammond and his officials. Managing this relationship with Theresa Villiers will be vital if the new Secretary of State is going to succeed in her role.
Concerns that the Government were lacking a clear aviation strategy under Philip Hammond will not have been allayed on the announcement of his successor. While Justine Greening is well versed in many of the transport and environment debates given her former brief, commentators have been quick to identify her key role in campaigns against increasing capacity at Heathrow as a bit of excitement in an otherwise fairly dull reshuffle.
As Economic Secretary, Justine Greening had responsibility for environmental issues including transport taxation so she is well-informed about many of the issues facing the aviation sector. And as a constituency MP under the Heathrow flight path she has argued passionately against increases in aircraft noise and emissions. Her website describes the Coalition’s flagship aviation decision to scrap a third runway at Heathrow as “really fantastic news” that will “help protect our local quality of life”.
The Government’s scoping document, ‘Sustainable framework for UK aviation’, closes to consultation responses this week and there are a number of areas the DfT has promised to look at including APD, reform of the airport economic regulation framework and aviation security regulation. But as Ms Greening navigates the path to an aviation policy, concerns are no doubt likely to be voiced given her historical opposition to increased capacity at Heathrow. Indeed. Willie Walsh, Chief Executive of British Airways’ parent International Airlines Group, has reportedly already done so. But the department has denied any conflict of interest: “There are transport considerations in every constituency but these do not prevent ministers from carrying out their duties fairly and responsibly.”
Philip Hammond, although constrained by the Coalition line on a third runway, was seen as a pragmatist and, with Government concerns over the need for economic growth, persuadable on the need for increasing capacity. As Boris Johnson has already come out to warn, London and the UK’s competitiveness is under threat without increased aviation capacity. Given her links to Osborne, the Justine-Boris dynamic will be an interesting one to watch when the debate about the future of the Tory leadership inevitably kicks off. For now, the issue of airport capacity is likely to be a closely watched, early test for the new Transport Secretary.
Justine Greening will certainly arrive at the Department of Transport to a full in-tray when it comes to rail policy.The most pressing issue for the incoming Secretary of State will be maintaining support for High Speed 2 both inside parliament and with external stakeholders. With the Department for Transport announcing its final decisions on its strategy for high speed rail before the end of 2011, the Government’s flagship transport policy is likely to be a priority for Ms Greening in the coming months. While the change of Secretary of State could and perhaps should provide an excuse to rethink some of the issues around HS2 (not least the route), MHP understands that Greening has been explicitly told by David Cameron that he expects her to vocally sell the idea of the new line, perhaps more eloquently than her predecessor managed. This is another area where Greening’s relations with Theresa Villiers, who has her own view of the HS2 project and route, will be crucial.
On procurement, the Government has come under fire in recent months over its decision to award the £1.4bn contract to for the new Thameslink trains to Siemens, rather than British based Bombardier. Despite assurances that this represents the best deal for taxpayers and transport users, the issue doesn’t look like it’s going to blow over. The RMT has already demanded a meeting with the new Transport Secretary to discuss the future of the Bombardier train building plant in Derby, and the DfT have pledged to look at European procurement rules to ensure that British companies have a better chance of winning local contracts in the future. How this chimes with Greening’s free market approach (one endorsed by George Osborne) remains to be seen.
The Government has already announced its intentions to extend the length of rail franchises. The McNulty report, published earlier this year, proposed trimming £1bn a year from industry costs by the end of 2019, on top of a review of the fares policy, giving train operators greater control of their routes and potentially cutting jobs. Keeping the unions onside whilst delivering greater efficiencies is likely to prove a challenge for the new Secretary of State and her team.
Ms Greening will also need to engage with plans for funding of the Northern Hub scheme – Network Rail’s programme of investment and development to improve rail services across the north of England. The perception that transport funding has been disproportionately benefitting the south east over recent years will undoubtedly play a key role in the DfT’s decision, but this will have to be weighed against the £6.2 billion of cuts being made to the transport budget over 2010/11 as well as other high profile transport priorities such as Crossrail and Thameslink. Greening’s position as a London MP may add an extra complication to debates of this nature in the future.
Philip Hammond recently said that he is "ending the war on the motorist”. Now he is off fighting real wars, it is unlikely that his successor will deviate all that much from his motorist-friendly policies. She is certain to continue the populist drive towards an extension of the motorway speed limit to 80mph, and will also maintain the coalition’s investment in road building. AA President Edmund King welcomed her appointment, noting that she used to work at The AA (although MHP has been unable to verify this biographical snippet).
Local bus services remain a headache for the Department, with cuts to local transport budgets and cost increases expected to lead to a reduction in local services, and a fare hikes for those that remain. As one of the architects of the Government’s austerity policy, Greening will have to defend some of its most visible effects over the coming months.
Cycling campaigners are cautiously optimistic about their new Transport Secretary, who is known to ride a Brompton. But from a philosophical perspective, it would appear that she would instinctively back pro-business arguments over environmental ones. Realistically, for the foreseeable future, the DfT is going to have to frame all of its policies as beneficial for economic growth – this should come naturally to the former Treasury Minister, and it is unlikely that we will see many run-ins between her and her political mentor, George Osborne.