How much appetite for radical change?

I have been fascinated to read responses to my proposals on roads from people usually up for a smaller state telling me I am going too far. If you can’t take government out of the main road business, what can you take them out of? It should be one of the easier ones.

The criticisms all boil down to one thing. People see it as another opportunity to fleece the motorist, when I have in mind for the first time in more than ten years offering the motorist a better deal!

Some of the critics misread the scheme, and think the government will be collecting the tolls and benefitting from them. On the contrary. The tolls would be levied and used by the franchise owners. The last thing I want is the government to start charging us tolls on top of everything else they charge us. Nor do I want us to pay twice, which is why the scheme includes the abolition of the VED levy on everyone with a vehicle.

Some critics think the private franchise holders will be monopolists and will milk us all at the toll booths. Again, why on earth would I propose something like that? The scheme includes splitting up the roads into different packages, so whereever possible there would be choice of pay road. In addition, all single carriageway roads and many bigger A roads remain free, so there is always a free route home if you want it. On top of that the franchise sale would include an upper limit on how much per mile they could charge. The franchise holders would be free to charge less,and would doubtless charge less at off peaks to encourage a better spread of use.

What people are missing is the obvious improvements that would come from such a system. As one supporter concluded, the Highways Agency could be wound down, saving money. Private franchise holders would want to improve their roads to improve flows, as they will only get lots of business if there are savings in journey times by using their better roads. The competition would be for the length of the franchise they needed for the government to get the money it wants. We would soon see use of the emergency lane at busy times as already happens on sections of the M42. They would need a suitable duraration so it was worthwhile putting in more capital for improvements. Where they wanted to make a major improvement to the road they chould be able to negotiate a lease extension or a capital repayment from the new franchise holder if it ever changes hands.

Some of you worry about the congestion toll booths can cause. It would be up to the franchise holders to choose the least disruptive technology to get paid. The US system where you can buy a smart card in advance which allows you straight through toll points without stopping is an obvious way to do it. That could also reassure people they were not being logged and monitored where they were gooing, as if you had a valid card the system could be designed not to record your vehicle. Alternatively there could be monitors and you could receive a bill once a month like a mobile phone bill- which also of course can monitor exactly where you are at any time you use it. The Oyster card on the tube already logs whereever we go by underground. Two wrongs don’t make a right but it shows even us freedom lovers will put up with it.

We need to break the state monopoly grip on road provision. We need to get more access to private capital to invest to bust congestion by removing bottlenecks. I look forward to your response to future radical proposals for sorting out our deficit and poor public services. This was meant to be the less contentious one!

This entry was posted in Blog. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

55 Comments

  1. Guy Herbert
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    Perhaps one of the liberalisations might be for franchise holders to set speed limits or to offer different sorts of speed limits. Ordinary modern cars with ordinary drivers on modern motorways are massively safer at 100 mph than 1960s sports cars were at 70mph. Banning Nigel Mansell for speeding in his Bentley (1998, but the most egregious example I can think of) makes no sense at all.

    Before anyone suggests it, if we let insurance companies decide, the man with a red flag walking in front of every motor vehicle will be back after 100 years’ retirement.

    • Freddy
      Posted August 30, 2009 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

      “Perhaps one of the liberalisations might be for franchise holders to set speed limits or to offer different sorts of speed limits.”

      Until the first time there is an accident, and someone sues for punitive damages based on dangerous speed limits.

      • Philip Walker
        Posted August 31, 2009 at 9:41 am | Permalink

        “Until the first time there is an accident, and someone sues for punitive damages based on dangerous speed limits.”

        That’s not an objection to liberalisation. The whole point of law is that it provides a framework within which legal persons may exercise their freedom. If motorway operators have the freedom to vary speed limits, then law will develop to govern that freedom.

  2. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    Whose plan is this? I read in today’s Sunday Times Business that this radical plan has in fact been presented to the three main political parties by NM Rothschild investment bank. Reading on I discovered that Vince Cable supports this plan but Theresa Villiers, the shadow transport secretary, said the Conservatives had “no plans” to back these proposals. Part of the mystery was solved when I read that Rothschild employs several senior Conservatives including one John Redwood. The question which remains though is whether this is your idea which has been taken up by Rothschild or is this you doing your job on behalf of Rothschild and promoting their business proposition?

    Reply: I have not worked for Rothschilds for the last 20 years, and did not know they were promoting a variant of this scheme.

  3. Waramess
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Well, at least there are two of us because I support your suggestion one hundred percent, for what thats worth.

    Travelling north out of Athens with a Greek friend we were motoring along a very non-Greek motorway- no potholes or road repairs every couple of miles- he told me that it was the first toll road built in Greece and had been built by one of their largest contractors.

    If Greece, an electorate with firm socialist leanings, can get their heads around private roads funded by tolls, I would have thought we could.

    We must hope that a decade of socialism has not totally crushed the entrepreneurial spirit of the UK

    • Freddy
      Posted August 30, 2009 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

      Greece has had a program of new road building for which they were bribed by EU funds so long as the roads were built in the private sector. They needed new roads built, they did not just need tolling equipment installed as Mr Redwodd is proposing here.

      • Waramess
        Posted August 31, 2009 at 10:12 am | Permalink

        Freddy, It was a great idea anyway and maybe something we could import here in Britain to amplify Mr Redwood’s proposal

  4. Javelin
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    John, from your perspective it’s about smaller Government. From my perspective it’s about Government protecting our freedom to travel – even if we have no money.

    Even though I am center right I still believe that the Government is here primarily to protect our freedoms. Free speech, security and free travel are the foundation of Government.

    Each of the many conflicting roles and responsibilities if Government can be approached from a different perspective. It is not necessary to apply the same political perspective to every Government responsibility. Consistency seems to be being applied naively.

    If you want consistency think about this. It’s not about small or big Government it’s about the proportion and intrusiveness of Government in different aspects of our lives. When it comes to our freedoms then Givernment is there to protect them. In the case of the BBC news bias it means No Government bias. In the case of the armed forces it means total Government support. In the case if the roads it means Government provision. It’s not about the Government it’s about our freedoms.

    • Mike Stallard
      Posted August 30, 2009 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

      This sounds lovely.
      Until you realise that the numpties in government have not got a clue about road costs, road servicing or legality. So how can they hope to run our roads? It is like putting Noddy and Bigears in charge.
      Secondly, “freedoms” quickly comes to mean keeping up with the slowest. If people cannot afford a car, then they – note that weasel word – ought to get off their backsides and go by public transport.
      Me, I am fed up with keeping up with the slowest all the time.
      I note that the numpties do not even attempt to keep up with the slowest with all their expenses, their limos with chauffeurs and their air travel – often in the Queen’s flight.

  5. oldrightie
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Radical and progressive works for me. My Conservatism desires the best to be kept the rubbish burnt. Keep up the good work. It will need 20 years without the rubbish of the last 13, though!

  6. Stuart Fairney
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    This is one of those issues you need people to think about and come to their own conclusions. I had this ‘road to damascus’ moment in college in 1991, intially I thought “Crikey just more taxes” but after due consideration it makes sense.

    So might I suggest a simple and specific set of proposals (perhaps a few bullet points) and ask people to think about the specific issues for a while and invite comments. Perhaps you could disable the comment feature for 24 hours and invite people to comment after due reflection?

    Inertia can be hard to overcome and once people form an opinion it can be hard to shift them.

  7. alan jutson
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    John I do not believe it is, or will be a better deal for me, and it seems many on your blog agree.

    I do not want to have to plan my day around all sorts of different rates of charges, road types and alternative routes. I just want to get in may car and go, wherever I want, whenever I want, by whatever route I want.

    If I have a car which has a medium or low VED rate, then a couple of tolls a year when I go on holiday say to the west country, would simply wipe out any savings.

    Yes by all means get rid of the VED and shove a few pence on petrol to make up for it, assume the average motorist does 10,000 miles a year as your break even/tax neutral figure.

    I do not believe that road franchises, smart cards, toll booths, cash machines, automatic readers, road charging statements/invoices, pay in advance schemes, automatic number plate readers et al is an improvement in any way.

    No franchise is going to be able to make the roads run freer unless, they have complete and total control of the roads with regard to maintainace, widening, traffic, lights, speed limits, accident recovery, breakdown recovery (more rip off charges) etc.

    Franchises will still have no control over utility services digging up a road which buggers up traffic flow. If a water main bursts or a gas main springs a leak, then the road has to be dug up immediately full stop.

    What about the policy of bus lanes. The M4 has one third of its capacity removed for buses and taxies from Heathrow to the elevated section approaching London at the moment, when most of the time it sits empty whilst traffic in the other two lanes line up waiting.

    Road pricing which has been proposed, if press reports are to be believed suggest a charge of £1.40 per mile on motorways in peak hours (which the Government seem to be happy with), so one journy into London and my years saving on VED is wiped out.

    As mentioned by many others on this blog get rid of traffic obstruction systems, that will help.

    Give this one up and concentrate on government waste, when we all decide its too much hassle to travel by car, we will find alternatives, or not travel at all.

    Just off to apply for my bus pass, until that is some government official decides that it is to be means tested.

    • Freddy
      Posted August 30, 2009 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

      “I do not want to have to plan my day around all sorts of different rates of charges, road types and alternative routes. I just want to get in may car and go, wherever I want, whenever I want, by whatever route I want.”

      This very bicely sums up what I think will be the dominant attuitude. We have had 12 years of Blair, Brown and their overgrown students coming up with new schemes to make out lives more difficult, to provide more jobs for parasites sticking their noses into our business, and our businesses. Why would you want to carry on the same approach ?
      We are all going to be groaning under the economic weight of 12 years of Labour incompetence; will you please start thinking about how to make our lives easier.

  8. Paul
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    After 12 years of Brownian Motion (as Chancellor and PM) an immediate, instinctive reaction to any policy proposal is to look for the scam. Look for the dishonest little trick. Assume it is purely for a headline and it will cost us money.

    Is it money already paid being reannounced ? Is it financed by some tax hidden in the small print ? etc etc etc.

    This is especially so for the motorist who has been scammed repeatedly.

    It will take time for this reaction to go away.

    • Citizen Responsible
      Posted September 1, 2009 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

      How true! Reading your comment, I now realise I think this way every time.

  9. chris southern
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    The most impotant thing is to ensure as you have said, double taxation does not start up (lets face it, most goods are taxed multiple times already with VAT and the different oil taxes) as it would push up the price of goods due to the increased transportation costs.
    That is the biggest problem, avoiding the transportation of general goods (especialy food) being held to ransom or forcing the larger vehicles onto the A roads to avoid double taxation.

  10. Matthew Reynolds
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Well done John ! I love the sound of your shrewd & sensible ideas ! These could certainly reduce the size of government and empower private providers to raise the standard of road provision. Simply funding the roads from general taxation has not worked – new money and making provision more demand responsive could be a way round this. Anyone who has been reading your blogs should know perfectly well that you are anti-monopoly and anti high tax so it ought to be obvious that any John Redwood invented scheme could never on principle contain any such flaws.

    Your ideas on roads are sound and some of the critics need to really read & think before replying ! They might look a lot less silly if they paid attention ! Well done for an excellent suggestion and for the safeguards that will stop us being fleeced and that will stop a monopolist situation from happening.

    • Freddy
      Posted August 30, 2009 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

      “new money and making provision more demand responsive could be a way round this.”

      Private sector concessionaires will not be more demand responsive: they will be subject to the same planning contraints as the public sector. I don’t know of any road concession anywhere that gives the private sector authority over the planning and permitting process.

  11. THE ESSEX BOYS
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    We’re warming to this one!

    We’ve analysed our principle initial concerns and believe they can be allayed. They are/were:

    1. The government buggers up much of what it touches.
    Less likely after next June, especially if they find a role for you or someone with your credentials on this type ofproject.

    2. Would the current relevant government apparatus be abolished rather than redeployed so there are genuine cost savings in Highways, DVLA etc ?

    3. Could the plan be test marketed and assessed accurately for 12 months in a major region before national implementation – or otherwise?

    As we said previously we tend to support the broad concept of getting current systems working efficiently but the state of the public finances leaves Britain needing more radical solutions.

    So we look forward to….
    “future radical proposals for sorting out our deficit and poor public services. This was meant to be the less contentious one!”

    We also look forward to the chance of saying hello in Mancester in October. Are you participating in any of the forums?

    Reply: Yes of course I would propose dismantling the Highways Agency and VED. Private competing businesses would want the main routes to flow better to attract business. Yes I will be speaking at Manchester and will set out where and when a few days before.

    • Freddy
      Posted August 30, 2009 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

      “As we said previously we tend to support the broad concept of getting current systems working efficiently … ”

      Agreed. Where is the analysis that bunged-up motorways are actually the fault of the Highways Agency, rather than any other factor ?

      In particular, how much would cost and time of major construction works be improved by reducing the Elf’n’safety burden ?
      How much are current widening plans being held up by planning permission and land acquisition ?

      • Matt
        Posted September 1, 2009 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

        “Where is the analysis that bunged-up motorways are actually the fault of the Highways Agency, rather than any other factor ? ”

        Good point. There is data available to show that road works are not a major contributory factor to journey time (un)reliability. Most congestion is caused by too many vehicles and accidents. Traffic flow through road works (on motorways) tends to be extremely efficient as it is more highly controlled than in more free flow areas of the network.

        The H&S ‘burden’ as you put it has, apart from keeping large numbers of people healthy, made significant savings for major construction firms as they reduce down-time due to accidents. The country benefits financially and socially from reduced serious and fatal injuries in the construction industry (the industry with the highest number of fatal injuries for the past 4/5 years).

        None of this means JRs ideas (not exactly his if he’s honest) are bogus.

  12. Neil Craig
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    My o0nly problem was that even the least disrupruptive tolling is an added expense & that simply applying statistics to trafic flow doesn’t.There is also the point that roads, like rail, are a natural monopoly where they work most efficiently when both ends are operated by the same organisation, which is wht we have Railtrack rather then full privatisation.

    I agree that the answer to high taxes is not that motorists be excluded but that government spend less in total.

  13. Mick Anderson
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Lots of the issues covered here, all in one subject!

    The large smothering control of Government, privatisation, corporate money to supply services for the public, and radical proposals, to name a few.

    There are several reasons why the public may not accept these proposals for roads. You’ve covered a couple of mine by saying that there will still be a choice of major road to use if you don’t want to pay a toll, but that still only covers long-distance journeys. There is a choice of route from London to Birmingham, but not if your regular commute to work is from Portsmouth to Brighton.

    Perhaps it would be easier for the public to accept early radical proposals if they conformed to two principles.

    One is that the reform should be to something that the Government has artificially created, such as the tax credit system, or the health and safety industry. There are many reports of how they are expensive, fails to work, and stifle life rather than improving it.

    The second is that the early reforms should be about trying to restore and repair the country, not re-invent it as something new. All of the shiny “new ideas” introduced by the existing administration are high on many peoples list of things to be abolished. Any new administration will have to earn our trust before they start to make radical change in new areas.

    In the case of roads, we all want them to be better built and free-flowing. Most of us would also want the intrusive and expensive money making cameras removed so that we don’t feel threatened every time we make a journey.

    Lower hanging fruit for radical reform might be in reducing the amount of state control, and cutting the number of public “servants” leeching off our taxes.

    Remember that if you decide to reform roads and make a mess of it, you will adversly affect everybody in country. If you make a mess of abolishing the Milk Marketing Board (or so many other quangos) hardly anybody is going to notice. Learn from the early mistakes, improve your technique.

    Cut your teeth on something that limits your risk of ridicule in the event of failure, and we will try to learn to trust a new administration. Once you have earned that trust, you can start massive new changes such as road reform.

    You need to demonstrate that you can walk before we can trust you to run without falling over.

  14. Nick
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    It’s very simple .

    Be honest. Hypothecate the road and fuel tax for the roads.

    Limit it to the actual spend on the roads.

    You won’t do this, because you rip the motorists off, and you’re going to be desparate for cash if you are elected.

    You won’t do it, because its in government’s interest to be obscure about prices for its services.

    You can abolish VED and put it on fuel. Difficult to evade, easy to collect. Gets rid of lots of civil servants from the DVLA. Policemen can go back to other duties. You know who is insured, you know who has an MOT.

    There is no need for technology. It is just more snooping on the citizen. More intrusion into private affairs.

    As usual, you’re proposing a bigger state as the solution.

    Politicians are the problem, not the solution

    Nick

  15. Martin
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    John I agree with your implication that the present system of paying for roads isn’t working. Tax on fuel and the Road Tax are pay and forget charges.

    The beep of the Oyster Card at the start and end of the trip is a reminder I have paid for the trip. So is the pay booth on the M6 Toll Motorway.

    Unfortunately many motorists are addicted to the present tax and use regime. I know some motorists who moan like crazy about fuel taxes but the mention the M6 Toll motorway and they moan even more.

    A proper charging system will cut emissions and use our roads sensibly.
    Charge by time of day, distance or even average speed and type of road will introduce some sanity on the roads eventually.

    Strange as it may seem to some the charging systems on much of our railways has driven passenger numbers up. Motorists tend to be too used the Open full fare ticket(tax) system on the roads.

    Whether the state or private sector or mix runs the scheme is the customary debate.

    Regarding the Oyster Card and privacy as long as it is only TFL having access to the data so be it. However the danger is when the Oyster database is linked to Alan Johnson’s compulsory identity register.(Compulsory because we have to join the identity register to get a passport.)

  16. Bernard Palmer
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Excerpt from ‘What is the Primary Fundamental Right?

    “The advantages of having toll roads everywhere are probably not easily seen though taxes taken for their construction and repair would be gone and income would be earned by every resident from those sales. Traffic jams should be reduced as better traffic control systems evolved. Traffic lights are a Socialist’s dream of direct control. Prior to large government there were less traffic lights so there was less time wasted waiting for them to change. The cost to business of slow traffic lights has apparently yet to be revealed though the implanting of the lights themselves often runs to around $50,000 per lamp which does not include maintainence and power usage or replacement in the event of an accident. Australia with a population of only 20 million has over 600,000 traffic lights for about 12 million (2005) vehicles.

    Many countries previously used roundabouts and ‘give way to traffic on your left or right’ depending on which side of the road traffic flowed and it apparently worked extremely well, especially in the early 1970’s Australia. As Socialist governments get larger one of the first obvious things they start doing is planting traffic lights on every corner.

    It is possible that car manufacturers would become major owners of fast roads or HOT (High Occupancy Toll) lanes so they could better utilize their cars auto drive technologies. Cars capable of speeds up to 200 miles an hour (320 kilometers), driven by a computer, could be hired in competition to aircraft, allowing for effortless door to door travel. This could save ailing companies like Ford and General Motors who are good at building big and beautiful safe fast cars but not so good at selling them. The really beautiful Bugatti Veyron has a fixed top speed of 253 mph (407 km/h) and can reach 186 mph (300km/h) in just 16.7 seconds but at those speeds the fuel tank is emptied in about 12 minutes.

    Housing estates could own their own roads and restrict the traffic using them. People would probably walk more and be a lot healthier. It is an absolute that all businesses are better run by profit makers than if run by profit destroyers such as governments and most roads are really under developed businesses.”

  17. Johnny Norfolk
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    How about the new mayor of Doncaster and his update, he started in June .

    We need to see much more of things like this.

    Priorities
    The Mayor is committed to improving the borough and ensuring residents are offered the best possible services.

    Progress / Key decisions since taking office

    Appointed a mixed Cabinet of committed Councillors
    Cut Mayor’s salary from around £73,000 to £30,000 per year
    Axed Mayor’s chauffeur driven car (approximately £6,000)
    Stopped future funding for gay pride event (£3,000)
    Stopped council newspaper Doncaster News
    Directed that two children’s social worker posts be reinstated at Doncaster Royal Infirmary to specifically assist children in hospital and to help detect abuse
    Axed membership of Local Government Association and Local Government Information Unit (approximately £80,000)
    Where possible, stopped funding for translation services and instead encourage people to learn English
    Cut twinning ties with five towns saving approximately £4,000+
    Written to the Electoral Commission to cut the number of Councillors from 63 to 21 which could save upwards of £1,000,000

    Future priorities

    Lower Council Tax by cutting extortionate levels of bureaucracy and other waste
    End malpractice and mismanagement in the council
    Hold a referendum on the Mayoral governance of Doncaster
    Reduce the number of councillors from 63 to 21
    Conduct a review of the A638 Quality Bus Corridor and the traffic mayhem around the Dome
    Scrap politically correct non-jobs and encourage the former employees to seek meaningful employment
    Encourage every school to opt out of local authority control – money should go directly to schools to raise deteriorating educational standards
    Ensure police concentrate resources on catching criminals
    Introduce zero tolerance of anti-social behaviour and impose penalties for such everyday practices as using foul language in public and spitting in the street
    Halt the architectural vandalism of Doncaster and protect the town’s heritage

    Good luck to him.

    • alan jutson
      Posted August 30, 2009 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

      Yes and he is not a Tory, Labour or Lib Dem.

      Perhaps this is the answer, for a complete change.

  18. Little Black S
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    A Government (or police) system of plotting the journey of every vehicle electronically would be ostensibly for the sake of making us pay as we go, but it would be a wonderful complement to the national identity database and all the other instruments of central control that this government intends to acquire. We must never agree to it. The break-up you propose would make such a thing very difficult for a future government with similar fascist tendencies to this one.

  19. Acorn
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    I assume you are clearing these radical ideas with the front bench; or, have you declared UDI? Anyway, I am with you for one. I think your road plan is a runner; the French do it quite well.

    I still have you pencilled in for a Treasury post, but Secretary for Franchising is my new invention. You can start with roads and work your way up to Hospitals and Schools. You may have to have another look at Railways while you’re at it.

    Another area ripe for attention is the broadcast media. We now have television coming at us via ADSL (broadband wires); free-to-view satellite; cable; pay satellite; digital terrestrial and analogue terrestrial. The latter to be gone by 2012-ish. Too many platforms with a cumulative high fixed cost base.

    That lot needs pruning. As terrestrial digital is the platform the UK punters are buying, it is unfortunate as this is the platform that has the severest radio spectrum limitations. Particularly as the dear old EU wants to nick some of the existing channels for mobile broadband systems. So don’t expect to get high definition TV across the whole “Review” platform for a long while yet.

    Not to mention the BBC monopolising every broadcast platform that emerges, and complicating the system with its “red button” sub menu gimmick. It does the same on DAB radio.

    PS. The TV rant is because the Dressage competition was supposed to be on the “red button” Saturday evening. It was on cable and satellite, but not on terrestrial “Freeview”. ‘Er indoors, much upset.

    Reply:This is a John Redwood site, not an official Conservative site, so no the views are not cleared.

  20. John B
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    In France there is no VED and lower fuel prices. Many of the autoroutes are toll roads, built and maintained by private contractors. Charges are reasonable and the roads well kept, with plenty of rest areas and service stations and traffic, except for certain days at holiday times, free flowing.

    Increasingly people use Telepéage which uses technology to charge as they pass the toll booths without stopping; there are also card-only lanes with fast payment – the card is read and returned within about 3 to 5 seconds no PIN required.

    If such a system were adopted in the UK, who pays for the non-toll roads and with what?

  21. Steve Tierney
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    I love small government. I hate the bloated public sector. But there are one or two things government belongs IN, not to fleece us, but to protect our status as free men and women.

    Roads is one of those things.

    A vital right we must protect is our ability to move about our own country. It is equally shared by rich and poor, by man and woman, by all classes.

    If you give control of our roads to private firms to manage and toll as they see fit you run the risk of closing one of our most basic rights – to move about our home country as we choose, without restriction or direct cost.

    Small government – yes. No government – no.

    Where the boundaries are is what the debate is all about. I would never, could never, support the kind of road pricing you advocate in this idea. In fact, I’m horrified by it.

  22. Mike Stallard
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    At the moment I am feeling really anti government.
    In Dubai the only tax a couple of years ago was a road toll. All you had to do (by law) was to buy a sticker for the front windscreen. Every time you went along a certain eight track carriageway, the camera flashed and you had paid already.
    The technology, in other words, is there.
    I think it is worth a try – but only if other taxes are reduced accordinglike. “Transparently” in the original meaning of the word. Off the road tax we at present pay. Permanently off petrol prices.

  23. Bazman
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    Toll roads are probably in theory the best way to go, but you just know and I mean for sure under any British government you will be ripped off. No ifs no buts it will happen. As sure as night follows day. Petrol will never be made cheaper. Never happen. Wonderland stuff. The tax disc as a source of revenue will never be given up. Fantasy.
    Expensive white elephant roads hardly used by the public as they will be to expensive. The bankrupt road building company bailed out by the taxpayer and the A roads through towns in a parked state. Many people refusing or unable to pay tolls whatever. I have the same attitude to bank charges and would go to ludicrous lengths to avoid them. This will be the reality of private roads in Britain. The same as the financial system, the utility companies, the railways, housing, pensions. etc. This is common knowledge and why the public is so opposed to Tolls and private healthcare. We just know how it will turn out. Just because a way of working or a system works abroad does not mean it will work under the British mind set.

    • Mike Stallard
      Posted August 30, 2009 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

      1. You could well be right about the tax reductions.
      2. However, if you take the usual system (Poland, Thailand, France, USA), then there are toll booths. If you pay, you get through. If you don’t the ever present Police are there to assist you off the road.
      If you want to pay, you get a good ride.
      I reckon the real debate is about 1. not 2.

      • Bazman
        Posted August 31, 2009 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

        Many of the toll roads especially in Italy are very much under used whilst the free ones are oversubscribed. An extreme of this in Britain is my suspicion. The M6 toll road is a real luxury and very much appreciated when I go up north a few times a year. Not affordable every day though. If there was not a free motorway I would have to use the A and B roads as there would be no alternative. I would have no ‘choice’. Concord, First Class or economy? Oh! let me think…Concord is not running and the cutlery is just getting so bad in First Class these days and what with all these football and new Russians….Looks like economy.

  24. no one
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    Isn’t the problem with the credibility what the various Conservative councils get up to?

    Conservative councils as much those of other flavours are full steam ahead with road thinning, bumps, enthusiastic members of so called speed camera partnerships, massive hikes in parking charges, all designed to persecute the average motorist while doing nothing about the worst driving out there

    VED tax discs are not just revenue raising they are the only regular check on MOT and insurance status etc, so currently unlikely to get removed for that reason

    If the Scottish Government can buy out the Skye road bridge so that tolls are no longer payable (as they did) then be careful, and certainly if South East England ends up having to pay while Scottish drivers pay nothing be very careful, I’m sick and tired of paying for free prescriptions and road tolls in Scotland and Wales this is not equitable and viable long term

    So we are all inevitably cynical

  25. Freddy
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    “Some of the critics misread the scheme, and think the government will be collecting the tolls and benefitting from them. On the contrary. The tolls would be levied and used by the franchise owners.”

    The franchise owners will then remit funds to the government, either via up-front fees or subsequent distributions.

    Reply: NO – they will just pay profits tax like everyone else

  26. Freddy
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    “We need to break the state monopoly grip on road provision.”
    Are you sure ? A dogmatic insistence on trying to PPP everything is a hallmark of the current government. Privatisation is not a universal cure-all; why are you so sure it is the right thing in tis case ? So far, you have just said that our roads are congested; you have not given any analysis of why this is so.

    “We need to get more access to private capital to invest to bust congestion by removing bottlenecks. ”
    Is it really a lack of pubilc sector funds that is causing these bottlenecks ? Where are the facts and the analysis ?

    “I look forward to your response to future radical proposals for sorting out our deficit and poor public services.”
    Do not fall in love with radical proposals just because they are radical proposals. That is a prime characteristic of the gang of overgrown students who are currently in government.
    If you expect to be in power for more than one parliament, you guys are going to have to show a lot of mature judgment, not more right-on JCR nonsense.

    Reply: I have been a strong critic of the tube PPP – that’s the last thing I want to reproduce – but a strong proponent of telcom privatisation which has given us much better choice, lower prices and more capacity.

    • Freddy
      Posted August 31, 2009 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      “Reply: I have been a strong critic of the tube PPP – that’s the last thing I want to reproduce – but a strong proponent of telcom privatisation which has given us much better choice, lower prices and more capacity.”

      I would agree with you on both of those. I would argue that privatising the motorway network will be much closer to the Tube PPP than to telecom privatisation.

      Naturally, the private sector is there to do a good job for its shareholders. This only translates into a good job for its customers when there is realistic competition between independent providers – even Adam Smith realised this (“it never happens that men of the same profession get together but that conversation eventually turns to a conspiracy against the public” or something like that).

      In the case of telecoms, we are constantly deluged with adverts from other companies wanting to take over our telephone services, all of whom can take over our service provision almost seamlessly.

      In the case of the Tube – well, there is some competition for us users: we could always take a bus, or a taxi, or drive.

      I would argue that, for the vast majority of the motorway network, there will be even less realistic competition for customers than there is with the Tube, and hence that privatisation of the existing road network would make even less sense than the Tube PPP.

      • Bazman
        Posted September 1, 2009 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

        Much of the improvements in telecommunication are due to technological innovation and advancement. Little to do with BT who the Conservative party would have you believe the internet was invented by BT after it was privatised.
        Here’s a radical idea. Instead of giving vast and guaranteed profits to private individuals. Spend the money on improving existing roads. Increase the tax even. Here’s the radical bit. Spend it on the roads.

  27. steve hemingway
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    We no longer expect water to be provided by the state or a nationalised industry, nor electricity, nor gas. When there is a choice between state-provided services and privately supplied ones, such as in education, the privately supplied one is enormously higher in quality.

    We have a choice. We can ration road use by queuing, as now, or by price. Only one of these choices leads to efficient allocation of resources, and we all know which it is.

  28. True Belle
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    Bitumen is produced from selected crude oils . The price of oil is high.

    Are councils really feeling the strain re road repairs, so therefore are unable to afford the cost of repairing them?

    How is it that very hot countries manage to keep their road surfaces intact and free from deterioration?

    Are road repair companies using the wrong mixtures?

  29. True Belle
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    I meant to say, are our deteriorating roads and their lack of maintenance a subtle way of removing buses , coaches and elderly car drivers off our highways?

  30. adam
    Posted August 31, 2009 at 1:14 am | Permalink

    It wont be free market, nothing in transport is. It will probably be a public private partnership, tolling contracts handed out to favoured companies, where the EU retains ultimate control. The governments aim is for this to be used to track people, like an extension of the congestion charge UK wide, all data will be available to the government or military. When the ID cards are out, doubtless they will be required to authenticate travel.
    eco people will still want to tax petrol and discourage road use and private transport. Difficult to get exited about.

  31. Freddy
    Posted August 31, 2009 at 5:47 am | Permalink

    “What people are missing is the obvious improvements that would come from such a system. ”
    That’s because they are significantly less than obvious.
    Do you regard the London Underground PPP as an obvious improvement ?

    “As one supporter concluded, the Highways Agency could be wound down, saving money.”
    Well, how much ? Remember, all the real functions currently performed by the Highway Agency would have to be performed by the Concessionaires, so you are still going to pay for them. Do you have evidence of significant inefficiency at the HA ? Or will the Concessionaires have to do exactly the same things – if so, we will still have to pay for them, and with a mark-up.
    Also, don’t forget that there will have to be some sort of public agency to handle letting of the concessions, and the ongoing monitoring of concessionare performance.

    “Private franchise holders would want to improve their roads to improve flows, as they will only get lots of business if there are savings in journey times by using their better roads.”
    No, private franchise holders will want to improve their profits.
    It will usually be the case that the easiest way to do this is to do no significant capex beyond what they are forced to do by the terms of their concessions.

    “We would soon see use of the emergency lane at busy times as already happens on sections of the M42.”
    Only if the concession allows them to do so. If this is such a good idea, why is it not already done on a nationwide basis ?

    Bah. Let me say it again : London Underground PPP.

  32. tapestry
    Posted August 31, 2009 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    this is revolutionary. not so much the road scheme, but to find future government policy being discussed openly in the virtual environment….kinda gives you hope hope that this might be the way democracy will re-establish into a post-mandelsonian era.

    2003 was the pinnacle of media control by government when Blair ignored all opposition and attacked Iraq. Six years on and the blogosphere is gradually leaching power away from the centre.

    oh yes. roads.

  33. Freddy
    Posted August 31, 2009 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    P.S.
    “On top of that the franchise sale would include an upper limit on how much per mile they could charge.”

    These franchises will be for a decade or three in duration. Concessionaires – and their lenders – will need any maximum toll price to be indexed against inflation (and probably some amount of real GDP growth).
    If there really is an unindexed upper limit, then it will have to be set so high that investors are not concerned about inflation risk over the life of the concession.

    Private sector toll roads are not some wonderful shiny new idea that no-one has ever thought of before. There has been a market in these things in Europe for many years. It would be a good idea to study how things have worked there before associating yourself too strongly with the idea here.

  34. Adam Collyer
    Posted August 31, 2009 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    Two problems I can foresee with this idea:

    1. The government (any government) cannot be trusted not to raise taxes. You might start on Day 1 of the scheme with tax reductions equivalent to the toll revenue. But in due course the taxes would be ratcheted back up, leaving us with taxes AND tolls.

    2. Since the franchises would (presumably) be auctioned off, and the maximum tolls be set by the government, the government would remain in control. The successful bidders would be the ones who propose to charge the maximum toll, and therefore promise the highest payment to the government.

    So this would in practice end up being a way to fleece motorists. We might trust a politican like you, John, to implement the scheme. But we certainly do NOT trust the Transport Department civil servants, and politians of all parties, who would run the scheme over three decades. Especially not when most of them believe their primary role is to attack motorists.

  35. the pro from dover
    Posted August 31, 2009 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    I would suggest that you haven’t a clue how the road network in this country operates. There is very little choice of viable routes available from major conurbations -especially east/west.
    Even London -you try avoiding the South Circular (quicker walking).
    Nationalisation of the road network and tolls is a non-starter.

  36. the pro from dover
    Posted August 31, 2009 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    Why not have a look at a window tax?

  37. Alan Wheatley
    Posted August 31, 2009 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    I can do “radical” IF it is any good. I would say, John, a convincing case has yet to be made. But in any event, at best any improvement to road transport will be marginal.

    My main criticism is this is fiddling with tactics, but where is the strategy?

    We know from experience that as transport facilities improve they are used more. It seems we humans can find endless reasons to travel. And the more readily goods can reach wider markets the more incentive there is to to send more to more destinations. Although worthy, there is a cost in providing increasingly improved facilities for the increasing travel of people and goods, not just for the transport facilities themselves, but also a cost of the impact on the environment.

    The situation is made worse by an increasing population because improvements have to hit a target moving upwards. You say nothing about the quality of the result you expect to see. Indeed, proposals of this type don’t really mean much unless you state the population size and timescale at which you are aiming.

    The UK is a limited area, and the more of it that is used up for transport, and the consequences of transport, the less there is for other things.

    I think any consideration of roads should also look at what can be done to reduce the number of journeys. For instance, modern communications technology has improved such that very good video conferencing is possible. But this is not available to all. If every home could conference with HD TV quality with easy to use facilities at a modest cost, then there would be a realistic alternative to a meaningful proportion of journeys.

    A sound tactic, no matter how radical, can be an effective means of heading off in the wrong direction for lack of a good strategy.

  38. Bazman
    Posted September 1, 2009 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    As I mentioned earlier, just make petrol twenty quid a gallon. Interesting to see how long it stayed at this price though if radical and unforeseen miniature engine technology evolved allowing most of the energy from the fuel to the wheels. Forty quid the following week for sure. I would bet my car on it.

  39. Dr Dan H.
    Posted September 1, 2009 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    The main problem here is that for the last decade or so we have had a bunch of (inadequates-ed) in charge whose main objective was to try to make us conform to whichever of their lunatic doctrines was currently in favour. For the last few years, a sort of faux environmentalism has been flavour of the month, and this creed mostly involves mouthing a few platitudes about the environment then putting up taxes.

    Quite simply, we’re sick and tired of all this.

    The general reaction when anyone in government comes up with a new plan is on the lines of “Oh bollocks, here comes an idiot who’s going to try to raid our bank balances. Again.” The current government consists of a vast army of (inadequates-ed) led by a leadership team who’d lose a battle of wits with a sack of well-rotted manure (not to mention a vote, should it come to that). Good, intelligent leadership is so rare in the current bunch, and inefficient plodding mediocrity so common that nobody these days seriously believes that a politician is anything other than a venal, corrupt thief out to line his pockets at our expense.

    Your job, sir, is not to sort out our roads but to restore our faith in our government. Putting our membership of the EU to a referendum would be a very effective way to start, if I might make so bold…

    Reply: I do support a referendum on the terms of our membership of the EU and have done a lot to further that cause. The next government also needs to sort out the roads, which are hopelessly inadequate for our needs even in a recession.

  40. no one
    Posted September 2, 2009 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    so i guess this is an england only policy? scottish and welsh will ignore it? as per skye road bridge? and conservative govt will not try to force it on them?

    whats the current conservative policy on the devolution question? the english still going to be paying for free prescriptions in scotland and wales?

    ha ha (sorry to ask the tough questions, but a modern mrs T would have answers to all of this worked out…)

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

  • John’s Books

  • Email Alerts

    You can sign up to receive John's blog posts by e-mail by entering your e-mail address in the box below.

    Enter your email address:

    Delivered by FeedBurner

    The e-mail service is powered by Google's FeedBurner service. Your information is not shared.

  • Map of Visitors

    Locations of visitors to this page