The Labour Party secured a landslide victory in the UK general election last week in the early hours of Friday 5 July. In the days that followed, incoming Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer quickly set about assembling the cabinet for his new government, including a new team of ministers being allocated to the Department for Transport (DfT).

As expected, Starmer’s previous Shadow Secretary of State for Transport Louise Haigh has been appointed as Secretary of State for Transport in the new Labour cabinet. But other appointments have indicated there might be some changes afoot.

A Minister of State for Rail role has been awarded to Lord Hendy of Richmond Hill CBE – a familiar name to many in the rail industry. Huw Merriman, the predecessor in Hendy’s position, was titled Minister of State for Rail and HS2, with Hendy’s title now dropping the reference to the shortened high-speed rail project.

Joining Hendy are three other MPs appointed as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, with positions broadly mapping onto the roles in the previous structure of ex-Secretary for Transport Mark Harper’s previous DfT, although with some small changes.

So, who are these new figures steering the course for transport in the UK?

Louise Haigh, Secretary of State for Transport

Louise Haigh has served as MP for Sheffield Heeley since 2015 and as Shadow Secretary of State for Transport since November 2021.

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Haigh has firmly embraced her portfolio since her appointment and was a vocal opponent of the Conservative Party’s approach to managing the country’s railways; opposing the award of a new contract to Avanti West Coast, criticising the cancellation of major projects in the North, such as the HS2 Birmingham–Manchester leg, and the refusal to enter meaningful negotiations with trade unions.

According to the party’s manifesto, Labour’s pledges for the civil aviation sector include “secure the UK aviation industry’s long-term future”, promoting Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF), and encouraging airspace modernisation.

Haigh and Labour’s plans for transport mainly centre around the rail sector, with the party’s manifesto focusing most on the industry compared to maritime or aviation. The core policy she will be looking to deliver during this parliament is to bring train operating companies (TOCs) back into public control as their existing contracts expire. 

Mike Kane, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Aviation, Maritime, and Security 

Mike Kane has served as Wythenshawe and Sale East MP since 2014 and was Shadow Minister for Aviation and Maritime from April 2020 to May 2024. He has been appointed as Under-Secretary of State for Aviation, Maritime, and Security, a position previously held by Lord Davies of Gower.

Gower’s role was titled Under-Secretary of State for Maritime and Security, so the change indicates that Kane’s responsibilities in the role now include aviation in the UK, which previously fell under the remit of the now-defunct Under-Secretary of State for Decarbonisation and Technology.

Kane has also shown a commitment to a strong aviation sector, despite acknowledging the need to curb the environmental impact. Speaking at the Airlines 2023 conference, he told an audience that politicians should not look to influence consumer choice when it comes to flying, saying: “Who are we to deny them their right to a holiday?”

He has also previously hinted at a tweak to air passenger duty, despite the Labour Manifesto omitting any discussion on the topic, due to the disparity the current regime creates between major and regional airports.

Kane has also stated consistently that the Paris Agreement includes a legal requirement to commit to a 10% fuel share in SAF and is, as such, not up for debate.

“Producing our own supplies of SAF could have a transformative impact on de-industrialised areas of the north,” Kane said in 2023. “We do not want to put UK passengers at risk by having to import fuel in a competitive market and in globally uncertain times that would push up prices for UK travellers.”

“Having shadowed the maritime brief for most of the last Parliament, he brings a wealth of knowledge to the role and is ably placed to hit the ground running. I look forward to working together to help ensure shipping continues to be at the heart of UK prosperity,” UK Chamber of Shipping CEO Rhett Hatcher said in a statement following Kane’s appointment.

“There is much to be done across government for the shipping sector. The early focus should be on a long-term decarbonisation plan, ensuring our approach to maritime borders helps, rather than hinders, trade and working with the sector to deliver the workforce we need now and in the future.”

As Shadow Minister, Kane was active in the maritime sector, standing up for P&O workers amid the company’s controversial fire and rehire tactic in 2022, as well as appearing at multiple industry conferences and roundtables to hear the concerns from industry leaders.

“We will work with unions and with industry, as we always have, to ensure that the opportunities in the sector are opportunities for long-forgotten coastal communities and the deindustrialised communities,” Kane told an audience at a Maritime UK event during the 2022 Labour Party Conference.

“A Labour government will ensure effective safeguards that will protect working people on the path to net zero in respect to pay, quality and conditions.”

Lord Hendy of Richmond Hill CBE, Minister of State for Rail

In a surprise move, PM Starmer announced the current Network Rail chairman, Lord Peter Hendy, as Minister of State for Transport. Hendy is a well-known figure in the rail sector, having worked in public transport his whole career, most notably as Commissioner of Transport for London (TfL) from 2006–2015 and as chairman of Network Rail since 2015, a role he will now depart due to his new position.

The announcement of Hendy follows several others by Starmer as he looks to make non-political appointments in an attempt to introduce expert knowledge into his government.

Hendy received a life peerage in 2022 as a crossbench appointment on the Special Honours list, and as such is a member of the House of Lords, allowing him to serve in cabinet. However, as he was appointed as a Lord, he will answer questions regarding the transport sector within the House of Lords as opposed to the House of Commons (much like Lord Cameron as foreign affairs chief in the last government).

Hendy’s appointment as Rail Minister hints at the priorities of the new Labour government. His vast experience across the rail sector will undoubtedly be of great use in the launch of GBR as well as the reintegration and management of the TOCs as they come back into public control.

However, it’s his experience as TfL commissioner that could be of most use. There has been widespread speculation the Labour government will be looking to devolve control of public transport to Metro Mayors, allowing them to set up their own networks akin to TfL. 

Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, has already announced such plans in the form of the Bee Network, and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has hinted that TfL will be looking to bring the TOCs remaining suburban services in the capital under its remit. Hendy’s experience at TfL could be a vital bridge between the DfT and the devolved transport departments as these new networks are created.

Though it came as a surprise, Hendy’s appointment has been greeted with broad praise from the transport sector.

“Lord Hendy is a distinguished transport professional and public servant, and it is rare to have an incoming minister with such a high level of operational experience and expertise even before starting the role,” said Railway Industry Association (RIA) CEO Darren Caplan following Hendy’s appointment.

The sentiment was echoed by Paul Adams, CEO of the UK Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport.

“We are delighted to welcome the appointment of our former president, Lord Peter Hendy, to the new government,” said Adams in a statement following Hendy’s appointment. “Lord Hendy has consistently been a committed advocate for our institute, and we eagerly anticipate collaborating with him in his new government role.”

Hendy’s appointment has also reignited hope that the Labour government could be looking to resurrect the cancelled HS2 leg from Birmingham–Manchester. The Telegraph reported that Haigh is still hopeful of resurrecting the connection from Birmingham to Crewe, and Hendy has been a vocal supporter of the project – even criticising Rishi Sunak’s decision to cancel the northern leg despite his position at the time at Network Rail.

Simon Lightwood, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Local Transport

Simon Lightwood has served as MP for Wakefield since 2022 (Now Wakefield Rothwell due to boundary changes in 2024) and served as Shadow Minister for Local Transport from September 2022 to July 2024.

Lightwood’s predecessor, Guy Opperman, held the title of Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Roads and Local Transport in Harper’s DfT. The dropping of ‘roads’ from the title perhaps shows the new government’s focus on shifting the modal share away from roads, although Lightwood’s portfolio does still include road maintenance.

Lightwood will be charged with overseeing local transport including buses, taxis, and light rail; as well as active travel such as boosting cycling and walking. His work with buses and coaches will be his main focus, as it was during his time as Shadow Minister, particularly working to implement Labour’s plan to allow local authorities to control local services.

One would expect Lightwood’s light rail remit to hold importance should Metro Mayors unveil plans to create devolved transport networks in major cities.

In a statement following his announcement, the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) said: “[We are] Delighted to see Simon Lightwood arrive as Local Transport Minister.

The CPT looks forward to working with him and his team to ensure everyone across the country has access to good quality bus services – helping to drive economic growth, social inclusion, and net zero transport.”

Lilian Greenwood, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Future of Roads 

Lilian Greenwood has served as MP for Nottingham South since 2010 and has held various roles in the Shadow Cabinet and Shadow Frontbench, including Shadow Minister for Rail between 2011-2015, Shadow Secretary for Transport from 2015-2016, and most recently Shadow Minister for Arts, and Heritage, and Civil Society.

Greenwood, who was Chair of the Transport Committee from 2017-2020, has now been appointed as Under-Secretary of State for Future of Roads, a seemingly new position created by Haigh in the DfT ministerial structure. 

Although her remit is not yet confirmed, it’s possible that the unresolved responsibilities from the now-defunct  Under-Secretary of State for Decarbonisation and Technology could well fall into her hands – namely technology such as autonomous vehicles and electric scooters, transport decarbonisation, and science and research.

The new position could also reasonably take more of the road maintenance and infrastructure responsibilities from Lightwood’s office, giving him more space to focus on buses, coaches, and light rail.