Reflecting further on this week’s 2012 Autumn Statement by Chancellor George Osborne, a few things come into sharp focus.
The cancellation of the planned 3p rise in fuel duty may have been one of the Chancellor’s most popular decisions, but it comes with a hidden price for many. Welfare claimants and jobseekers have been hit by real terms cuts in benefits, and the consequences of promoting car travel at the expense of public transport are very serious – especially when you consider that nearly half of workless households have no access to car.
We can be sure that more cuts will be on the way. The Government still needs to find an extra £10 billion in 2015-16, and of the various Government departments, transport is particularly exposed. It is of course positive that Government recognises the importance of providing transport infrastructure, however, with the increased focus on capital spending there has been an accompanying squeeze on revenue which is bringing unintended consequences to the rest of transport system.
Buses are especially vulnerable and have generally fared worse than other transport modes in recent cuts, in spite of the fact that bus commuters generate £64 billion in economic output. Research by the University of Leeds revealed that last year 11% of bus commuters were forced to turn down the offer of a better more productive job due to lack of a bus service. Government should take note here. Recent welfare-to-work figures have been disappointing, and buses are fundamental to getting to people to work.
There is also the very real risk that in the rush to provide infrastructure fundamental principles of transport planning are being overlooked. As Professor Phil Goodwin has commented recently “No doubt more things will be built, but they will be the wrong things, in the wrong place, at the wrong time”. And the economic benefits of transport infrastructure projects typically do not outweigh their costs for 20 to 40 years.
Reading through some of the supporting documents, it is however encouraging to read that the Government intends to publish a Door-to-Door Strategy “to support a well-connected, smart and sustainable transport system that works for everyone”. There are many low cost interventions which would go a long way to supporting the Government’s drive to improve transport infrastructure and support economic growth.
What we need is to make best use of existing capacity, and to provide improved transport for those who need it most to get back to work and to get the economy moving again.
Image by: Sherpa_536