What has been your highlight of the last 12 months?
For once, this is an easy question. In May the Elizabeth Line, previously known as Crossrail, finally opened. It took almost 15 years and £19bn to complete. Already around 70 million journeys have been made and people rightly rave about the stations and the experience. I’ve spent many hours in front of select committees explaining why Crossrail was late and over budget (I could write a book) – but I always believed it would come good in the end, and thanks to a lot of brilliant work, it has. It was especially pleasing and poignant that this happened in time for Her Late Majesty to open the line named in her honour, in what proved to be one of her final public appearances.
What was your most difficult decision in 2022?
To be honest, it has often felt that the most difficult thing in 2022 has been the long periods in which decisions couldn’t be taken, or didn’t stick because of the level of political uncertainty. In DfT, as for so many departments, a steady drumbeat of ministerial decisions is vital. However, if I think about some of the most significant milestones, introducing the bill which paves the way for building HS2 to Manchester, was certainly one of the biggest.
What is the biggest challenge facing DfT in 2023, and how will you meet that challenge as an organisation?
Cost of living will permeate everything in 2023, from big policy choices, to the decisions we take about our own people and teams. Putting that aside, there are two fundamental challenges for transport – post-pandemic recovery, and decarbonisation. We are seeing permanent behavioural changes in how people travel – less commuting and business travel, more leisure journeys. On decarbonisation, the rate of technology-led change is exciting, but we are not yet on track to achieve climate goals. To make the right calls for transport the future, we need to embed data and long-term, joined-up thinking in everything we do, engage with industry and wider society really effectively, and keep a laser focus on delivery.
“It has often felt that the most difficult thing in 2022 has been the long periods in which decisions couldn’t be taken, or didn’t stick because of the level of political uncertainty”
Obviously, it would be excellent if the trains could run on time as well.
And personally, as a leader?
It’s becoming increasingly embarrassing to admit I don’t drive an electric vehicle. Maybe 2023 is the year I switch.
It’s not only Santa who has to work at Christmas. What is your best, worst or weirdest experience of working in the festive season?
Christmas 2020 was memorable for all the wrong reasons. The French closed the border on December 22nd because of concerns about the Kent variant of Covid, leading to massive lorry queues within hours. That certainly made for a frantic festive season, and for a few days it seemed that everything that could go wrong, did. Miserable weather, increasingly angry lorry drivers, and a suspected sinkhole at Manston lorry park added to the chaos. Outstanding teamwork by DfT, Kent police, NHS Test and Trace mobile testing units, the army and many others meant the situation was sorted by December 27th – but sadly not soon enough to ensure a restful Christmas Day.