“Millennials are an afterthought when it comes to transport”: on the government’s new railcard policy

Shoulda brought your railcard, mate. Image: Getty.

The Labour MP for Brighton Kemptown on the government’s millennial railcard policy.

It was with great fanfare last Autumn that the chancellor, Philip Hammond, announced he was extending discount railcards to those aged 26 to 30, offering 4.5m travellers a third off their off-peak tickets. Finally, after years of mistreatment – tripling their tuition fees, raising their VAT, denying them access to housing – the government thought it had an offer for millennials.

The chancellors’ announcement didn’t go unnoticed: although I’m 31 and wouldn’t have been eligible, many of my friends remarked with relief at the thought of cheaper train fares. Yet, following the statement, the offer to 4.5m faded to a trial based solely in the Greater Anglia franchise area.

Two week ago I asked a Parliamentary Question seeking clarification from the government as to when my constituents in Sussex would be given access to the promised railcard. Its response was, “This is an industry-led trial and they will decide if it’s feasible.”

The same day that the government told me that this was solely a Greater Anglia trial, and that it was up to the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) to evaluate it’s feasibility, the RDG itself announced a further 10,000 places nationwide for the railcard. Which begs the question: who on earth is in charge of this process and why didn’t the government know what was happening?

With one day’s, notice a potential 4.5 million eligible customers had the chance to sign onto an ill-prepared website for the chance to claim one of 10,000 railcards. Predictably, the website crashed and the result is chaos.

Millennials turned to social media to air their frustrations with comments of comparisons to Glastonbury. Twitter user Richard Butler summed up the situation perfectly: “Can't think of a more apt metaphor for today's society than forcing millennials into a Hunger Games scenario for a 1 in 500 chance of not getting completely ripped off to do something that should be a basic right, on a website that doesn't even work.”

The day after the website crashed, Virgin Trains sarcastically tweeted that if millennials presented an avocado they could get a discount on their fares. I find it incredibly tone deaf that the Virgin PR machine would mock young people scrambling for some relief in their ever squeezed cost-of-living.

Virgin might be the tail wagging the dog, when it comes to this government’s rail policy. But its days of price gauging and spin are going to come to an end – and I have every confidence that a state run franchise will mean more avocado on the toast of millennials.

Ultimately, this sums up the government’s approach to young people. Millennials are an afterthought when it comes to housing, when it comes to higher education and, of course, when it comes to transport.

In 2017 I defeated a Conservative MP off the back of an increased turnout from young people. At the next election, millennials will express their views on this farcical process at the ballot box.

Labour is offering a fundamental change the way we run our public services – not half-baked unattainable railcards.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle is the Labour MP for Brighton Kemptown.


As EU funding is lost, “levelling up” needs investment, not just rhetoric

Oh, well. Image: Getty.

Regional inequality was the foundation of Boris Johnson’s election victory and has since become one of the main focuses of his government. However, the enthusiasm of ministers championing the “levelling up” agenda rings hollow when compared with their inertia in preparing a UK replacement for European structural funding. 

Local government, already bearing the brunt of severe funding cuts, relies on European funding to support projects that boost growth in struggling local economies and help people build skills and find secure work. Now that the UK has withdrawn its EU membership, councils’ concerns over how EU funds will be replaced from 2021 are becoming more pronounced.

Johnson’s government has committed to create a domestic structural funding programme, the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), to replace the European Structural and Investment Fund (ESIF). However, other than pledging that UKSPF will “reduce inequalities between communities”, it has offered few details on how funds will be allocated. A public consultation on UKSPF promised by May’s government in 2018 has yet to materialise.

The government’s continued silence on UKSPF is generating a growing sense of unease among councils, especially after the failure of successive governments to prioritise investment in regional development. Indeed, inequalities within the UK have been allowed to grow so much that the UK’s poorest region by EU standards (West Wales & the Valleys) has a GDP of 68 per cent of the average EU GDP, while the UK’s richest region (Inner London) has a GDP of 614 per cent of the EU average – an intra-national disparity that is unique in Europe. If the UK had remained a member of the EU, its number of ‘less developed’ regions in need of most structural funding support would have increased from two to five in 2021-27: South Yorkshire, Tees Valley & Durham and Lincolnshire joining Cornwall & Isles of Scilly and West Wales & the Valley. Ministers have not given guarantees that any region, whether ‘less developed’ or otherwise, will obtain the same amount of funding under UKSPF to which they would have been entitled under ESIF.

The government is reportedly contemplating changing the Treasury’s fiscal rules so public spending favours programmes that reduce regional inequalities as well as provide value for money, but this alone will not rebalance the economy. A shared prosperity fund like UKSPF has the potential to be the master key that unlocks inclusive growth throughout the country, particularly if it involves less bureaucracy than ESIF and aligns funding more effectively with the priorities of local people. 

In NLGN’s Community Commissioning report, we recommended that this funding should be devolved to communities directly to decide local priorities for the investment. By enabling community ownership of design and administration, the UK government would create an innovative domestic structural funding scheme that promotes inclusion in its process as well as its outcomes.

NLGN’s latest report, Cultivating Local Inclusive Growth: In Practice, highlights the range of policy levers and resources that councils can use to promote inclusive growth in their area. It demonstrates that, through collaboration with communities and cross-sector partners, councils are already doing sterling work to enhance economic and social inclusion. Their efforts could be further enhanced with a fund that learns lessons from ESIF’s successes and flaws: a UKSPF that is easier to access, designed and delivered by local communities, properly funded, and specifically targeted at promoting social and economic inclusion in regions that need it most. “Getting Brexit done” was meant to free up the government’s time to focus once more on pressing domestic priorities. “Getting inclusive growth done” should be at the top of any new to-do list.

Charlotte Morgan is senior researcher at the New Local Government Network.