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Wednesday, 27 February, 2002, 11:39 GMT
Transport groups demand stability
Traffic jams on the M5
Ministers have moved on while traffic was stuck
Constant changes in transport ministers have blighted efforts to make Britain's roads and railways better, say transport groups.

Amid continued opposition calls for Stephen Byers to resign, 12 transport groups told BBC Radio 4's Today programme there needed to be more stability at the top.

We are suffering a generation of neglect of transport and it's going to take several years, if not decades to put this problem right

Ben Plowden
Living Streets
Instead, there has been a high turnover of transport ministers, most recently with Mr Byers taking on overall responsibility from Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

The Automobile Association's John Dawson told Today: "We have got real problems out there with rail and road congestion and a key reason we have got into this mess is we have had 15 transport ministers in the last two decades or so.

Swift turnover

"What we need is continuity and an implementation of that 10-year transport plan with real focus."

Labour's first transport minister - when the post had full cabinet rank - was Gavin Strang, who held the job for only a year.

Gavin Strang, Labour MP
Gavin Strang was transport minister for only a year
John Reid had a similar short spell while Mr Prescott was still in overall charge as secretary of state at the huge Department of Environment, Transport and Regions.

Helen Liddell stayed only two months, although Gus MacDonald broke the trend by staying for longer than most.

Those short terms in the office, both under Labour and Conservatives, does not only reflect the problems in improving Britain's under-strain transport network.

'Delivery first'

While drivers and passengers have endured jams, the job has been a stepping stone for ministers to move on to higher office.

Edmund King, from motoring think tank the RAC Foundation, said: "We need a transport department that delivers and certainly in the past it's taken up to two years for secretaries of state to really get to know their brief.

"Unfortunately, most of them have not lasted that two years."

Mr King said it was time the government stopped "muddling through" on transport issues.

"There is no doubt the department has been sidetracked, what we need to do is strengthen policy and actually deliver on policy," he continued.

'Decades needed'

"Either the secretary of state rises over the issues and concentrates on his job in hand or sadly he will have to follow the fate of so many others."

Ben Plowden, director of pedestrians' group Living Streets, wants transport ministers to be in place for at least the length of a Parliament.

"We are suffering a generation of neglect of transport and it's going to take several years if not decades to put this problem right," Mr Plowden told Today.

"So for ministers to come and go every six or 12 months is not an adequate response to this problem."

See also:

26 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Byers statement: Key extracts
26 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Byers looks to the future
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