Prescott told: get a grip on transport

Andrew Grice@IndyPolitics
Monday 05 July 1999 23:02

TONY BLAIR is to order John Prescott to improve the Government's performance on transport amid growing concern that the voters are becoming angered by the chaos on Britain's roads, railways and the London Underground.

The Prime Minister's determination to "get a grip" on transport could provoke tension between him and his deputy, who heads the giant Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR).

Transport has risen quickly up No 10's agenda during an across-the-board review of the Government's performance since Labour's defeat in last month's Euro elections.

Labour officials say the party's private polling reveals that voters are impatient with the Government's failure to tackle transport problems. "The message is that we have got to deliver on public services - that means health, education and also transport," one close ally of Mr Blair said yesterday. "Transport is now a very big issue." A Downing Street insider added: "The Government does best where its ministers do best - such as Gordon Brown on the economy and David Blunkett on education."

Such comments will infuriate Mr Prescott, whose allies say he has been denied the Treasury money and legislative time to make quick progress since Labour came to power. Mr Blair has delayed Mr Prescott's plans to impose congestion charges on motorists driving into city centres until after the next general election, fearing the Government would be seen as "anti-car".

Mr Blair may use his forthcoming cabinet reshuffle to beef up Mr Prescott's ministerial team. The post of Minister of Transport, to which Helen Liddell was appointed in May, is outside the Cabinet. Some Downing Street aides want to upgrade it to cabinet rank.

Some of Mr Blair's advisers are so worried about the looming transport crisis that they want the Prime Minister to consider moving his deputy from the DETR when he reshuffles his Cabinet later this month. They have suggested he would make a first-class Home Secretary. But Mr Prescott turned down the Home Office before the last general election and wants to see through his present work until the next election.

Leading article,

Review, page 3

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