New Transport Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan offers to ‘work as a family’ with unions to end rail strikes

New Transport Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan reaching out to unions to try to end strikes  (PA Wire)
New Transport Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan reaching out to unions to try to end strikes (PA Wire)

New Transport Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan offered on Friday to “work as a family” with rail unions and train bosses to find a compromise to end the wave of strikes blighting the country.

With a shift away from her predecessors’ more confrontational approach, she reached out to the militant RMT and other unions to seek a “landing zone” which would resolve the dispute if all parties “put their best foot forward” .

Speaking to the Standard in her first interview as Transport Secretary, she said: “We need to work as a family to find balance.

“I’m a mum of a family. Negotiation, compromise, everyone not quite getting every vegetable on the plate that they want, or every pudding that they want, that’s how life works and in this it’s no different.

“Hopefully, my view of the world and the ability to bring everyone together is something that will get everyone to agree that we can find a landing zone that we can all live with.”

Her approach has made an immediate impression, with RMT general secretary Mick Lynch speaking of a “good meeting with a positive attitude”.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who clashed with her predecessor Grant Shapps over Transport for London funding, said he was “incredibly impressed” with her.

Whether Ms Trevelyan’s negotiating skills can lead to the strikes being called off is yet to be seen.

Rail passengers are being urged only to travel if necessary on Saturday because of the latest walkout which will see no trains between London and a number of cities including Edinburgh, Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham where the Tory annual conference starts on Sunday, with another strike to coincide with its end on Wednesday.

The Cabinet minister made clear there are limitations, including the “cost template”, to what the train companies and Network Rail can offer workers and that reforms were also key to finding a compromise agreement.

But she also stressed that she “respected” union bosses for seeking better pay for their members.

“What I want to do is to make sure that everyone is putting their best foot forward and genuinely trying to find a solution. That’s really important, putting offers when they’re realistic to their members is important,” she added.

“But I very much have said to everyone my door is open — this is a holistic family.

“We need a solution so that our train systems work well so that we can invest, so that I can have credibility and go to the Treasury and say ‘I want to do more, that there’s a credible position which says everyone in the rail industry is working together. Yes. It’s worth you investing, helping us do more’.”

Commuters would have faced rail fare hikes of 12.3 per cent next year, based on RPI inflation in July under the Government’s normal formula, but ministers have said they will not rise by as much.

Ms Trevelyan declined to be drawn on how much lower they would be, saying only: “We will continue to focus everything we do as the Prime Minister set out on easing cost-of-living challenges where we can.”

On the proposed expansion of the ultra low emission zone across Greater London, she stressed this was a decision for Mr Khan, though highlighted that people needed to be offered “carrots as well as sticks” to go green.

“If you need to not get in your car as a Londoner, then the bus and Tube networks need to work really well,” she added.

“The Government has invested a huge amount in underwriting, supporting TfL through the pandemic, and we’ve set some clear guidelines on what we need to see from them for that.

“There are some challenges financially and around the pension system which they need to get to grips with.”

She believes drivers will increasingly find it the “natural choice” to buy a net zero emissions vehicle in coming years.

Rather than it being a moral duty to do so to tackle global warming, she said: “It will become both easier and more financially viable when you look at the whole lifecycle of a vehicle to buy a zero emissions one and that will happen in a way that the consumer markets drive it and I think that’s how it should be.”

On a third runway at Heathrow, she emphasised that targets — 2030 for cars and vans, and 2040 for all road vehicles — to be zero emission would be important to resolve “air quality challenges” currently stopping the airport’s expansion.

Polls suggest a significant number of 2019 Tory voters in the so-called Red Wall are now deserting the party, though Ms Trevelyan, MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed, said: “That’s not what I’m seeing in my patch.

“But voters want to hear from us that we have an optimistic plan, that we are focused on helping their local economies to grow, for their kids to be able to have great jobs. And that’s exactly what the plan for growth that we’re pushing on with in so many new sectors is all about.”

The Government’s growth plan also includes schemes for “100 road priorities that we’re going to rocket boost” and Ms Trevelyan emphasised a series of other supply side reforms including on skills and childcare which the Government needs to “get on and deliver”.

She added: “As they roll out in practice, people will see the value of voting Conservative.”