Norman Baker on the trolleybus decision

Former Lib Dem MP and transport minister, Norman Baker.

Former Lib Dem MP and transport minister, Norman Baker.

Leeds University’s Clothworkers Centenary Hall was the venue for this evening’s talk by former Lib Dem MP Norman Baker about his experience as a transport minister in the coalition government. Mr Baker, who had been invited to speak by the Institute for Transport Studies, gave fascinating insights into how government works, recalling how as a result of a phone call from Angela Merkel to David Cameron, Britain changed its policy on vehicle fuel efficiency, a move that favoured German car manufacturers and which caused fury amongst British car manufacturers and consternation amongst Mr Cameron’s colleagues. He also told how he had been interested in using transport policy to cut carbon emissions, whilst his Conservative colleague Philip Hammond had been more interested in using it to promote growth. He described the workings of the Local Sustainable Transport Fund and the Green Bus Fund and said that these were both Lib Dem initiatives. During the question and answer session, Mr Baker was asked a number of questions including this one about the decision on the trolleybus application:

“Following the public inquiry into the application by Leeds City Council and Metro for a Transport and Works act order to allow them to construct a trolleybus line, who will the decision really be made by? Will it be transport minister Lord Ahmad, transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin, senior Department for Transport officials, or Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne? And what do you think the key factor will be in the decision on whether or not to give the scheme the go-ahead?”

In response, Mr Baker said that in 2010 he was of the opinion that Leeds should have a tram system as it was the only major city in Europe without a rapid transit system. But he said that because at that time, a trolleybus was all that Leeds was asking for, he decided to help the city with its application.

Mr Baker said that if the transport minster is busy when the trolleybus papers from the Department for Transport land on his desk, he might sign them without looking at them. He also said that if George Osborne or Patrick McLoughlin ring the minister and say they want the scheme to go ahead, then it would go ahead irrespective of what senior officers recommend.