Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Let England's Motorway Madness Be A Warning To Scotland
Throughout my lifetime it's been blatantly obvious that the SE of England gets the spoils while the remainder of the UK contributes.
Now, due to the neglect of road infrastructure in England - particularly the south east - David Cameron wants to semi-privatise motorways and trunk roads because his government (and the one one before) ignored the deterioration of major roads.
Approximately £33 billion pours into the Treasury's coffers from car taxation and fuel duty but during 2010-2011 the Department of Transport's budget was only £12.8bn. Of this sum £3.2bn went to the Highways Agency for operating, maintaining and improving the strategic road network in England. This compares to £3.4bn spent on the railways, £2.7bn spent via Transport for London and £2.6bn spent through local authorities. The DoT is facing a real terms cut of 15% by 2014-15 so these figures will, quite possibly, be reduced in the coming years.
Why are England's roads so unsuitable for today's road users? The figures show that approximately 35% of the total income is reinvested in road structure and while European countries such as Spain have built a magnificent road infrastructure in recent years (albeit with EU money), the UK government has done nothing - with the exception of the M6 Toll.
No privatisation in the last 30 years has been much of a success. Taxpayers' money subsidises the rail network more than it did prior to privatisation and service has gradually deteriorated while prices have regularly increased. Water companies make huge profits but the charge to consumers has increased by around 50%.
Companies will be permitted to develop a road structure and introduce toll charges on any new road.
David Cameron is desperate for money. He refuses to recognise that recent and present unnecessary wars are wasting billions each year - not to mention the cost of Trident and DfID's budget to rise by 35% in real terms by 2015. Just a few policies which incur questionable expenditure.
Semi-privatising the English road structure by offering long leases to private companies is a dangerous proposal. Will the people accept more of their country's assets falling into foreign hands? Are the British too relaxed about foreign ownership of prestige assets? In comparison to many other western countries we are unusual in our acceptance of selling parts of these islands to anyone who is willing to offer a reasonable price.
I'm not totally against road privatisation, such as the M6 Toll, but a wholesale long term lease is very different. It could be impossible to reclaim the roads without having to entertain another semi-privatisation plan to do so.
If the government considered getting rid of vehicle excise duty and replaced it with tolls, that may be acceptable to the average vehicle owner. But that's not David Cameron's intention. He intends to keep VED and allow private companies to share that income for the purpose of maintaining and improving the road infrastructure. I foresee private companies speedily building extra lanes/roads to use as toll roads and neglecting the maintenance of present roads. It's said there will be a watchdog, but no watchdog in the UK could be called efficient.
Would Scotland consider semi or fully privatising the major road infrastructure? We do need to improve it, of that there is no doubt, but because major improvements have been on-going for several years our roads are far superior to some of those in England. Transport links are part of the heart of a strong economy, along with the manufacture of quality products and a well educated population. It is my hope that Scotland will never suffer from short-sighted politicians such as the coalition, because once a part of an infrastructure goes out of public hands, it is then outwith the control of the people. Scottish politicians realise that's not a good move - hence Scottish Water is still a public utility company. Let's hope our roads stay that way too for a very long time.