Are nationalised roads wonderful?


           I have been interested that some of you are keen defenders of  nationalised roads, supplied free at the point of use, but at huge cost if you add up all the motoring  charges and taxes we do pay nonetheless. Road supply is used as one of the main reasons for VED and petrol tax, yet they collect far more in taxes than they spend on the roads.

           To me, our road system has all the characteristics of badly run nationalised industry monopolies.  They are dear to the taxpayers that pay for them. They supply too little roadspace, artificially rationing it. They tell us it is our fault for wanting to travel too much, or wanting to travel in the wrong way  so that their roads are regularly congested. They delight in making using the roadspace more difficult, with endless state interventions with the carriageways, signs, controls, rules and regulations. They take special pleasure in working out new complex rules, then fining anyone who has not grasped them or failed to see the changes in time. It is common for the public sector  to say there is no point in adding capacity because people will want to fill it up. I am glad they do not make the same argument about health service capacity.

             The problem with nationalised monopoly roads is summed up for me in the case of the Hammersmith flyover. This crucial piece of infrastructure was built in 1961, fifty years ago.  It took 90,000 vehicles a day. It is the main route into London for those coming from the M4, A4, M3, A 316 and other western routes via the North and South Circulars. It is the main way out to all those primary roads, and to one of the world’s largest airports, Heathrow. That makes it the prime gateway to London and the UK for many visitors to our country, as well as crucial to the busienss and economic life of the nation.

             On December 23rd it was announced that it was closed for an unspecified length of time, as its owners had not kept up with maintenance and had not realised the poor condition it has got into thanks to salt water erosion of the main tensioning cables for the  construction. This is despite many a night when the flyover has been closed for maintenance.  This prime route remained completely closed until 13 January, a period of three weeks, covering the period of the Christmas and New Year holidays, the main sales in West End shops  and the Central London celebrations. It has now been opened for light traffic, one lane only in each direction, and is still the cause of  traffic jams in west London. We are told this may last for four months.

            Does anyone think for one moment a private owner of such a crucial asset would want it to be shut completely for 3 weeks,and mainly shut for another four months? Wouldn’t a private owner, under sensible  Health and Safefty regulatory pressures, have checked out the tensioning cables and taken earlier action? Wouldn’t they explore propping the bridge with suitably placed supports from beneath if it had got into such a state, whilst they repaired it? If it had been a private franchise holder that had behaved in this way, wouldn’t the government be jumping up and down, demanding compensation, threatening cancellaiton of the  franchise, and demanding a full investigation into poor management?  Wouldn’t they expect a better answer than five months heavily disrupted?

               The flyover story is just one of the biggest and most visible examples of how public sector management can  think it is just fine to inconvenience thousands of people every day because they could not maintain and control their own asset sufficiently well. The flyover is free at the point of use, but many cannot now use it. Meanwhile we taxpayers will doubtless have a huge bill for late remediation work.

                 How well does your local Highways monopoly perform? Is safe and smooth movement of traffic its main aim? Is congestion busting its daily concern?

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  1. lifelogic
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    Spot on. If the money comes in taxation they have no incentive to provide and maintain decent roads they just ration them – rather like the NHS in the health field.

    The country has been crying out for several new roads – the north circular, a new Blackwall tunnel/bridge and some others. What is the point of endless congestion costing time and wasting fuel due to lack of a few proper roads and flyovers? The road managers have no incentive (with the current finance system) to carry out efficient, little congestion causing road repairs quickly at sensible times so they cause chaos.

    Traffic lights are also intentionally set to impede the vast majority of traffic perhaps 90%+ that is using a car/van/truck. Coloured bus/bike tarmac and pictures of bikes seems to be much in vogue (pointlessly) as if the road were government indoctrination adverts rather than a means getting from A to B.

    Just what is the point of bus lanes giving perhaps 50% of the road space to slow cumbersome vehicles carrying an average of 8 people and stopping every few yards. Perhaps 2% of passengers getting 50% of the roads it is insane (the 2% who have not paid for them too). All this just so they can “appear” to be green and “fair” and raise some bus lane fines.

    • Disaffected
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:56 am | Permalink


      Your comments, once more, demonstrate how inept politicians are at running public sector bodies in the country.

      Your blog the other day correlates with the symptoms of this problem. That is because privileged young people (Cameron, Clegg) enter politics with no experience of the world. Spoon fed into internships and jobs through connections or family ties without demonstrating or developing any personal quality to run a business or mange people. An expensive good education does not necessarily give them the emotional intelligence required to be a leader of people or an organisation.

      Most ministers do not even understand the business of their respective departments, let alone know what is going on throughout the department. That is why civil servants continue to do what they want rather than what the minister wants. It appears as long as the politicians are getting their fill of personal greed they do not care either. Other countries manage their rail and road networks very well.

      In my view, Canada has given the lead for public service spending. Starting with a ten percent cut. It focuses the mind what is actually needed from public services and public service spending. If there is a limit to the money then those responsible have to make do with what they are given and not be allowed to ask for more through taxation.

      • Robert K
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:52 am | Permalink

        The term “public spending cut” should be struck from the lexicon and replaced with “private sector stimulus”.

        • uanime5
          Posted January 18, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

          The two are not synonymous as it’s possible to cut the public sector in a way that does not benefit the private sector. For example reducing the costs associated with having to maintain a heavily used bridge by blowing it up.

        • lifelogic
          Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

          “Tax borrow and waste” seems the best description of government

          • Conrad Jones (Cheam)
            Posted January 19, 2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink

            “Tax borrow and waste”

            should be:

            “Tax, Inflate and Waste”

        • Bazman
          Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

          Even if that cut is to the private sector?

        • lifelogic
          Posted January 19, 2012 at 3:42 am | Permalink

          Why not just call the “private sector stimulus” what it clearly is – “tax borrow and waste” and drowning the private sector in the process.

    • Graham
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Permalink


      But as with most things these days the stultiying effects will continue even under private ownership because those who operate the rules are still jobsworths.

      The barrage of rules will increase because no one will care about the implications on the owner since the punter will still pay through the nose anyway.

    • lifelogic
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      There is of course still the usual problem of poor regulation (and regulation that becomes rather too close to the industry) as we see in gas, electricity, water, banking, railways and many other areas but that is certainly still better than the government actually running them. It is up to government to do some proper regulation they have more chance of that than both running and regulating them.

  2. JimF
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    I think more to the point is the fact that the police close roads, at will, for lengths of time at their own discretion, pending clearing up accidents or other obstacles. There has to be a more efficient system of clearing accidents and blockages on motorways (localised cranes?) and there should be stricter guidelines on minor roads relating to the length of time allowed for police to survey the scene before permitting a normal vehicular flow.

    • Single Acts
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:22 am | Permalink

      Well said, this is my own bete noir having once been stuck on the M3 from 7.30am until 4pm.

    • Caterpillar
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      Were there any policy changes after the M5 bridge closure on September 3rd 2009?

    • Jock
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      I did read recently that they were in the process of testing a laser camera type thingy that would allow them to take a complete “impression” of an accident scene to work on digitally rather than having to keep roads closed for so long for evidence gathering and so on.

    • Mark
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      I agree. The police are far too ready to cause massive congestion and jams for hours on end. I did read recently that some will now be equipped with better technology to allow them to survey an accident scene and collect all the data on skid marks, etc. using 3d imaging in a matter of a few minutes – a suggestion I made two years ago to the DoT. I have also suggested that there be signs BEFORE you join a motorway that can advise of jams along it. There’s no point in joining the back of an existing jam.

    • uanime5
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      The police do this because

      1) If there’s a car crash multiple lanes need to be closed until the broken vehicles can be removed. After all the police don’t want another car to crash into a broken vehicle.

      2) It’s easier to remove injured people from cars and into ambulances when you have access to multiple lanes.

      3) It’s easier to communicate with the police, witnesses, and paramedics when there isn’t the noise of the traffic driving by them.

      4) If someone dies then the police have to treat the scene as a crime scene. So they have to close all the lanes to prevent evidence being damaged or blown away by passing cars.

      • Mark
        Posted January 19, 2012 at 11:55 am | Permalink

        We know why they do it. The point is that they used to manage these things much more rapidly in the past and technology should allow them to do it even faster today. Gold plated rules, laziness and sheer bloody mindedness mean that they are happiest obstructing the traffic flow instead. Have you never driven past signs proclaiming some problem that ceased to be a problem long before you got there?

        • uanime5
          Posted January 19, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

          What evidence do you have that it used to be done more rapidly? The only reason I can think of is that in the past the police didn’t need to gather as much evidence at a crime scene.

          • Caterpillar
            Posted January 19, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

            In the M5 bridge closure September 2009 the police closed all northbound carriageways for about 6 hours for a threatened suicide leap. Sadly the person did jump in the end. Let me repeat this, the police closed the northbound M5 bridge completely, obviously local raods blocked up as traffic moved off, but those who had passed exits were stuck without provisions unless they had them. The police did NOT go up and down the closed road checking for those who needed water / food (e.g. diabetics – other medical conditions, this is without costing all the people that failed to reach Bristol airport). On the face of it there was no balance given to the risk-harm of those trapped by the police’s voluntary actions and the person attempting (and very sadly succeeding) with a suicide attempt. For such a major transport artery and the risks to so many people, to the non-police non-expert it is surprising that there isn’t a single-lane closure, cone and screen action available.

            If as Uanime5 implies that the police are optimally carrying out 4 bullet points, then the communication to the public’s understanding that there procedures are optimal and cannot be improved is lacking. I think if the police were understood to be optimal (and consistent) in there procedures then of course all (most people) would support their actions.

    • lifelogic
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

      This is certainly the case the police usually assume what they are doing is far more important than what all the surgeons, nurses, accountants, engineers and others would be doing were they not they not held up. Occasionally it is more important – usually not.

    • Disaffected
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

      Private policing of these roads will be mooted and added to the charge, not deducted from the police budget to cover the costs. It will be an additional cost to the tax payer.

  3. Primly Stable
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    Railtrack was a private company. Its complete focus on putting on shareholder profit above all else meant safety standards were neglected, leading directly to the deaths of four people in the Hatfield rail crash. If a private company owned the Hammersmith flyover and discovered safety concerns that necessitated a lengthy closure to allow for repairs, do you honestly think they’d happily close their asset and stop making money off it?

    • James Reade
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:58 am | Permalink

      Er, yes!

      If the safe running of the road results in your profits, you bloody well make it safe!

      If a road became renowned for a lack of safety, in a properly private system, people just wouldn’t use it, and the firm running it would make losses.

      There simply isn’t any justification, other than the usual hysteria people have about this word “profit”, for the roads to be anything but private.

      • uanime5
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

        It’s not until they have an accident that a company has a problem; so until then they’re quite content to cut safety levels to very low levels. Airline crashes often occur because the company valued profits more than safety , or because they were making a loss and decided to reduce safety (2 airline names deleted as possible examples-ed).

      • Bazman
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

        That will be the railways then Jim? That shining beacon of profit, customer satisfaction, value for money for taxpayer and passenger. All combined with the best safety in the world. Maybe I do not believe enough?

    • frank salmon
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      Railtrack was bankrupt and it was bankrupted by government ownership since nationalisation after the war. It wasn’t a business as it relied on subsidy. If it was a business it would have got rid of the loss making aspects of the network and it would have invested in in its future, vying for customers in the search for profit. So it would have been well maintained. Thanks to the UK’s particular brand of crony socialism, we have the worst roads in Europe and the most expensive railways. Privatisation of both would be a very good start to sorting out the mess…..

      • uanime5
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

        Who would Railtrack be trying to get customer from?

        Also how would your further privatise the rail industry?

    • Mark
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      The real problem here is that a 50 year franchise – as applies to M6 Toll – would not have saved the Hammersmith Flyover. We’re having problems 50 years on, just as the concession would have expired. The incentive for a concession would have been to build something as cheaply as possible that lasted 50 years – which seems to be what happened. Indeed, the major maintenance interval being so long and traffic dependent (how many trucks being a key variable) is one of the features that makes privatising roads a very tricky proposition.

  4. Electro-Kevin
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    I haven’t read this fully yet. Previous privatisations have often ended up re-nationalised … effectively in the ownership of other countries.

  5. Adrian Strain
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    What utter nonsense. You’ve come out with some gibberish but this is up there amongst the best. Nationalised roads????? Do you mean PUBLIC rights of way, established over thousands of years, managed for the public by various bodies charged by the public and paid for by the public to maintain their right of way. Go and build your own private road on your own private land.

    • James Reade
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

      It’s appalling, but I have to defend John here.

      What he has written is perfectly sensible.

      You may wish the roads to remain public, but you do so at a cost to the rest of us. We love you for it. Why do YOU get to decide how bad MY transport is? When did you begin speaking on behalf of the entire UK road using population?

      The air is free and PUBLIC – has been for time immemorial. Yet private airplanes and airlines use it. Doesn’t that bother you?

      • Bob
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

        Remember one of New Labour’s election slogans?
        “Our air is not for sale!”
        Then, after they won the election they promptly sold off ATC.

      • outsider
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

        The point is that roads are not “nationalised”, as steel or electricity were. They are the common assets of the citizenry, not the property of the state to dispose of at the whim of some “here today gone tomorrow” party government.
        As others have suggested, a newly created road can be private, just as the cross-Channel link is private.
        Incidentally, the privately owned Channel Tunnel was closed for a lot longer than the Hammersmith flyover as a result of design/operational faults.

      • uanime5
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

        Planes use fuel, not air.

        If you’re going to consider anything that travels through air as using air then every car, bus, and lorry uses air.

      • mart
        Posted January 20, 2012 at 2:57 am | Permalink

        “You may wish the roads to remain public, but you do so at a cost to the rest of us.”

        Do you want every road to be a toll road? How long should you travel between toll gates, to pay a fresh toll for the next section?

        What if you are poor and cannot afford the toll?

        Too much of this hand-public-roads-to-the-private-sector stuff is predicated on a utopian worldview that everyone can be paid enough to afford everything they need.

        It ain’t so. Some things must be publicly funded. This is one such.

        Kind regards to all.

    • mart
      Posted January 20, 2012 at 3:04 am | Permalink

      “Go and build your own private road on your own private land.”

      Dear Adrian,

      Although I share your conclusion, I do not share your reasoning.

      John was only advocating (in his previous post, anyway) leasing public roads for defined contract periods.

      In my opinion, a fair and reasonable (and taxpayer funds efficient) contract would be impossible to design.

      Where there is a public interest (free movement of people, goods and services), is furthermore no open market competition (eg. several parallel roads) there is no space for the private sector.

      I say this as a supporter of free markets and capitalism generally, for what it’s worth.

  6. Pete the Bike
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    Absolutely correct and it applies to every single thing that government does. Nowhere can you find efficiency, good customer service, quality or value for money. That is the reason that government should be excluded from almost every aspect of our lives. It should simply keep the peace, defend our borders and provide an extremely basic safety net for the unfortunate.
    Instead we have an omnipresent bureaucracy daily dreaming up spurious reasons to tell us how to live our lives and tax us for the privilege. Every new regulation costs jobs, every law reduces personal freedom. Little wonder there is no growth and stagnation rules.

    • James Reade
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:03 am | Permalink

      Nope – a step much too far.

      There’s no obvious reason for intervention in the roads, but there are many other markets where we get value for money from the government in ways we’ll never be able to accurately measure.

      For example, what price do you put on the knowledge that your health isn’t at risk because of a private operator who exploits your lack of information? There simply isn’t the same informational disparity between the seller and buyer in the roads as there is in health – and if there was, like with the market for, say, computers, consumer magazines, a market solution, fill the gap.

      Just because the government isn’t efficient doesn’t mean we should exclude it from all the activities it does. The market could be a heck of a lot worse.

      Reply: People use private sector planes and taxis without worrying that a private company will be unsafe.

      • Pete the Bike
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 10:07 am | Permalink

        The exclusion of government doesn’t hinder information, quite the reverse. I would always research anything a Doctor told me I had wrong with me, doesn’t matter whether they’re public or private. If there were market forces at play you would have more choice, freedom and competition. In fact I rarely believe anything I’m told about anything without other evidence, that comes of bitter experience. If you’re gullible enough to allow anyone to con you due to your lack of knowledge then more fool you.

        • Colin Adkins
          Posted January 18, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

          Well said, at last I have found someone who thinks the same as me.
          This approach has been almost completely removed from most of the population by the constant brainwashing of the media and our political leaders . Much easier to blame somone else rather than accept responsibility for your own decisions, witness the whingeing women who expect the NHS to reverse their folly of installing vanity enhancers in their bodies.

        • James Reade
          Posted January 19, 2012 at 3:29 am | Permalink

          Ok, well if you think you know about your body and your health better than a doctor, then more fool you.

          Call be naive, but I don’t think they sit around twiddling their thumbs in those six years they spend slaving at university in training.

          Yes, for sure, in other areas (e.g. the example I gave on PCs) you can look up information and do a bit of learning. But health is another matter entirely.

      • James Reade
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:39 am | Permalink

        Yep – with taxis, there’s enough repeat uses, and it’s not a particularly large purchase that it doesn’t matter too much.

        Health is another kettle of fish because we don’t know much if anything about our own healthcare needs, and without many years of training nor will we. Which leaves us very much open to manipulation. And of course, the cost of mistaken choice can be very bad health outcomes, even death.

        Healthcare is an area where intervention is justified. Roads, taxis and air travel, less so.

        • Mark
          Posted January 18, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

          Government intervention is not explicitly needed as you suggest. Areas of specialist expertise naturally produce guilds that certify the abilities of their members and their professional integrity. This applies in medicine, the law, engineering, accounting, etc. These can’t be an absolute guarantee that there won’t be rogue behaviour – but then neither can government intervention (indeed some of the biggest scandals arise because of the protection that being authorised by government provides – consider Stafford hospital, Baby P, MoD procurement, etc.).

          • James Reade
            Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

            Yep – won’t solve the issues, but it will reduce them.

        • Do we need the BBC?
          Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

          By your token, nationalised health services should be better than private ones. This clearly is not the case, even on a value for money basis.

          This argument persists amongst politicians and economists alike and it is because they don’t really understand health services.

          There are elective and emergency services for health. They have entirely different requirements and superficially appear more readily served by different models of provision.

          The problem is, to have the most obvious sector privatised (the elective work) requires the emergency work to be privatised, otherwise the emergency services are gradually run down by virtue of being less predictable and ultimately less profitable.

          The best solution is a closely regulated private sector which is able to react to change at far greater speeds than a nationalised industry. Clearly. As evidenced by just about every good healthcare sector in the world.

          And please don’t quote the USA. I said every good healthcare sector in the world; the US has the highest quality collection of hospitals, doctors, nurses, research institutes and pharmaceutical companies in the world.
          Unfortunately, however, these world class facilities do not provide a service to the whole population because of inadequate regulation and therefore the US is a long way from being the best sector in the world.

      • uanime5
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

        When a private airline is unsafe some passengers don’t live long enough to make the same mistake. Though airlines do suffer a loss of business after a major crash, especially if they were found to be at fault.

        Private taxis can be dangerous, especially if they are unlicensed.

      • zorro
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

        There are some plane companies with which I would not care to fly! I can see the general point and think that there should be some private roads. I think though that it is important to have some state involvement bearing in mind that it takes so much from us in tax.

        In the previous blog, I agreed that there should be an insurance disc and ideally an abolition of road tax with ‘user pays’ on fuel costs.

        However, even if they did go along with your ideas, I just do not believe that they would give the tax revenues from the cash cow motorist……I will mention a road scheme which is dear to my heart (and pocket) the world famous….’Heart of Slough’ project.


  7. John Fitzgerald
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    John, this opens a very large can of worms, in my opinion. The last government were so obviously against the motorist and increased all manner of factors to force people out of their cars and onto a non-existant public transport system! What is so disappointing is I have seen no great move by this government to change this position. I never joined the debate on HS2 as in my opinion it will never happen! However the sums of money that are being tied up in the basic consultations etc would be better spent building and improving the roads that 15 years of Labour left us with! The Hammersmith Flyover is a prime example of an attitude from government that expounds “who cares if it inconveniences motorists they should be using the train / bus anyway”!

    • James Reade
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:09 am | Permalink

      Wow – did I just read that? “improving the roads that 15 years of Labour left us with”?!?!?! Astonishing. The neglect of the road system has been something governments of all stripes since about 1979 have left us with. Let’s take off the political spectacles and think about this properly, shall we?

      This needn’t be a can of worms, just people make it that way. It could be perfectly simple, as John has pointed out. You have private companies operating the roads. Their profits depend on us having safe journeys from A to B.

      Of course, once a bill to privatise goes through parliament, by the time it gets through it has so many bells and whistles added to it that it looks nothing like what was proposed, and ends up being a mess. But it needn’t be…

      • Robert Christopher
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 10:20 am | Permalink

        “The neglect of the road system has been something governments of all stripes since about 1979 have left us with.”

        There wasn’t much spare cash in the 1980’s, after the “Winter of Discontent”, was there!

        However, by the end of the 1980’s and through the 1990’s, the economic situation did improve, so the opportunity to improve the nation’s infrastructure did presented itself.
        By the time the new century started, in 2001, these opportunities were impossible to ignore, yet Labour managed to spend, spend, spend, on anything that wasn’t good for the nation!

        • James Reade
          Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

          Hmm, I think I suggested taking politics out of it. I could just as easily present a rather different, and in my mind more sensible take on the time since 1979. The Tories neglected spending on public infrastructure, taking a starve the beast approach, and Labour for all it’s faults, did spend a lot on public infrastructure. Wasn’t it the school building project the Coalition abandoned in great fanfare only to reintroduce a little bit later? If rebuilding schools isn’t investing in infrastructure, I wonder what is?

          • Mark
            Posted January 19, 2012 at 11:45 am | Permalink

            The Coalition sensibly stopped BSF, which planned to rebuild every state school in the country in little more than a decade. That programme has not been reinstated. Instead, a more sensible level of spending that doesn’t tear down serviceable buildings with many decades of life left in them has been instituted.

            If we look at the motorway network, we find that most of it was built in the 1960s and 1970s. The M1 has been resurfaced and widened between the M25 and Milton Keynes in two stages North and South of Luton, and the Catthorpe interchange at the start of the M6 is being replaced. That is the earliest significant stretch of motorway opened, and one of the more heavily used routes in normal times. These projects have taken over two years apiece – partly because they have also installed an absurd number of CCTV cameras along the route (the South sector had 126 cameras covering 17km – or one every 135 metres). A similar project has been on the 20 miles of the M1 that pass Nottingham. The M25 widening is at last complete between the M40 and M1, but also lasted more than two years, while the section onward to the M11 is ongoing.

            Anyone who has driven these sections in contraflows will be aware that only short lengths of the road were being worked on at any given time, and that plant was often idle rather than operating 24×7 – yet lengthy stretches of the road were subjected to contraflow and speed limits. At least they realised that the 40mph average speed check they imposed was causing more jams and accidents than it was preventing, and so they raised the limit to 50mph. Given that more and more of the network will need proper resurfacing (much of the M6 is in very poor condition for example), we need to see better practices adopted that speed the projects and don’t impact on longer stretches unless they are being improved in blitz fashion rather than piecemeal.

      • uanime5
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

        The company’s profits depend more on the public having no choice but to use their roads, rather than these roads being safe or well maintained. The rail industry is a prime example of this.

      • Mark
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

        Here’s the history of opening dates:

        The M25 was built in the early 1980s, and the M40 extension from near Thame to Birmingham around 1990. Since then there has been little building, particularly for routes within England.

        The “New Deal” was part of the former Labour Government’s ten year transport strategy which was started when they gained office in 1997. In terms of road transport, the government effectively wiped the slate of the previous government’s road-building plans, jacked up fuel prices and put in place measures to ensure that only major bottlenecks in the road system would ever get attention. It resulted in final cancellation of the M65 across the Pennines, among other schemes. The ten-year transport plan was eventually abandoned, and road construction increased in pace, though not greatly.

      • lifelogic
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

        It was not just Labour to blame. The quack green (bicycle/bus/train good car truck bad) religion was rife under Major and now under Cameron and the Libdems & much encouraged by the BBC.

        It is pure scientific and environmental nonsense as can clearly be shown.

  8. davidb
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    Its our bitter experience Mr Redwood. Your idea sounds great but its Utopian. What is the most likely outcome from our experience of electricity, gas, water privatisations is that the service is still rubbish. The prices to us go up ( and up ). The directors – in the main still the same guys who ran it before privatisation – get massive increases in their compensation. And the companies are now accountable to no-one.

    Some things are unfortunately natural monopolies. Reluctantly I have to say that many of these are utilities.

    Then of course there is the arch example of capitalism. Banking.

    • Single Acts
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      Companies are accountable to shareholders and in the case of privatisations, various regulators.

      • uanime5
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

        Private companies are not accountable to shareholders because they don’t have any. Only public companies have shareholders.

      • davidb
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

        Yup. Utopian.

      • Bazman
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

        That’ll be banks then?

      • zorro
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

        Ideally yes…..but as we know that is a very loose control as the directors award themselves monstrous salaries. The government owns 84% of RBS but Mr Hester is still ‘earning’ over £1m per year plus bonuses/extras as a very expensive civil servant. I’m afraid crony capitalism rules in this respect.


  9. Caterpillar
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    The given example is very reminiscent of the nuclear power industry beofre and after privatisation. Privatisation generally leads to an improvemnet in operational efficiency, it does not always follow through to appropriate capex.

    Nevertheless I would agree that freeing up land use for both transport and housing might unbind a few constraints to the UK economy.

    • Bazman
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

      A privately built owned, run, insured and decommissioned near London with no input from the state. Never happen. Except in the fantasists fantasies. To many regulations and elf & safety? What a laugh.

  10. alan jutson
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink


    Your account of the roads fiasco and Hammersmith flyover (which I highlighted in my blog last week) is very true, but your solution to try to privatise such existing roads (your post last week) is a mistake, who in their right mind would take on such existing structures and roads, with the prohibitive cost of on going possible rebuilding and maintainance costs.

    Yes I would agee if a private company knew it would be responsible for maintainance over 50 or even a 100 years then maybe it would take more care in designing constructing and maintaing its own NEWLY BUILT infrastructure, but your solution to privatise EXISTING ROADS and structures has just been sunk with your own reaons in your post today.

    Privatise additional new roads (Toll M6) perhaps, existing roads and structures no.

    • alan jutson
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:54 am | Permalink

      Once again we see the result of decades of political mismanagement.

      The road users are already paying many more times the cost spent of building and maintaining our road infastructure.

      Money has been syphoned off for years for other uses, thus it is not a question of lack of money, the motorist paying more (in fact through the nose) to keep/get roads in a fit and proper state, in fact they are already vastly overpaying.

      For goodness sake get a grip on reality.

      Government spending on many, many other things is totally out of control, and that is why the money taken from motorists is not spent on the roads, because they still sort of work (not very well) but still work.

      The government needs to get a grip on what it is spending taxpayer money on.
      Our Benefit system is now completely unfit for purpose and takes too much of our taxes to fund.

      Immigration has been out of control for more than a decade.

      Europe bleeds us dry.

      Government waste, inefficient purchasing (Sir Philip Greene’s report) poorly written contracts (aircraft carriers, HNS computers) all need sorting before you even consider charging for existing roads.

      • Javelin
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

        Spot on.

        As any outside reader can see your blog is not populated by right wingers who want privatise everything, but by people wanting balance, responsibility and accountability in political life.

      • Bazman
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

        The government, any government, has decided like many others in the world to raise taxes via the road/fuel system. I they cut the taxes here, then somewhere else they would raise them.

        • alan jutson
          Posted January 19, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Permalink


          Why not waste less.

          At least it would be a start.

      • zorro
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

        Agreed Alan, new roads like the M6 Toll can be private but I can’t see how in reality private companies will take on the road network…

        John, I guess the journey must be getting a lot worse for you. What is your daily commute now? Do you struggle through the Hammersmith flyover or are you going South of the River?

        Will you be forced to take the…..train? (shudder)


    • James Reade
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:12 am | Permalink

      The more apt question is: Who wouldn’t? A national, linked-up network, if a little rusty and in need of maintenance around the edges. A money making dream! A few choice investments here and there to improve the system and make it easier for customers to use (hence for the company to make profits), and hey presto.

      The biggest problem with congestion is that we all pay the same flat rate to use the road at all times. Think how much a company could charge at peak times? Great opportunity. And think to yourself is that really that heinous a thing, that roads cost a lot at peak times? They currently cost us a heck of a lot in lost time – how much do you value your time?

      • Caterpillar
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 10:12 am | Permalink

        I agree that revenue/yield management to control demand patterns of road use isn’t a bad thing (and let’s face it coach companies, private hire etc. already do this), but it seems when train companies have such pricing then consumer groups complain.

        (Also can “A national, linked-up network, if a little rusty and in need of maintenance around the edges.” describe the NHS?)

      • Mark
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

        No we don’t. There is opportunity cost in being stuck in traffic (for some that may mean reduced earning power), and fuel consumption increases sharply in stop-start driving. Some people are prepared to pay to have sophisticated traffic monitoring and routing advice delivered to their satnav to avoid the jams where possible.

        If you wish for a market efficient treatment of the externalities of congestion, then you have to ensure that the real causers of that congestion are the ones who pay the price. For example, the A316 past Twickenham Rugby Ground mostly copes with traffic on a normal Saturday. On a match day, it becomes a traffic jam and clogs traffic over a wide area. It is obvious that this is caused by the additional traffic from those attending the match (including lengthy interruptions as pedestrians cross in large numbers). Perhaps £5 of the ticket price should be treated as a congestion charge for pedestrians, and £10 for those coming by car. Apportioning who should benefit from the revenue would be more tricky. Some might be spent on e.g. additional pedestrian bridges, and perhaps some used to reduce council tax bills.

        Reply: I Agree the best and safest answer there would be additional pedestrian bridge capacity.

        • Bazman
          Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

          All spectator sports should be pay-per-view and taxed more. The money used to help pay for participating in sport. Put it on anything that could be deemed to cause congestion. Big Ticket.

      • alan jutson
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Permalink


        The only reason any company would take on failing roads, bridges and the like is to make a financial killing, for which they would have to charge a very high rate.

        Those being killed (financially stripped) would be their so called customers who have already paid many times over for the asset to be built.

        Given the total and utter incompetence of any government department to write commercial terms within any contract (examples aleady given) the contract would probably require the government to bring its assets up to a certain standard, BEFORE they are handed over to the leasee.

        Just think about the term of a lease franchise, what would it be for, 50 years, 100 years, how many companies are around or still in existance in this time frame.

        Human nature being what it is, do you really think a for profit organisation is going to spend its own money on maintaining a structure, beyond the leasing expiry date of that lease!

        Before you answer it would be overseen by government officials or a managing company, just ask youself how many of these quango’s have a history of working in a successful cost (taxpayer funded) effective manner.

        Anwers on the back of a postage stamp please.

      • zorro
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

        I’m still reeling from James agreeing with John on this one!…..But seriously, James, the roads are in need a lot of maintenance after our horrendous two inches of slow last year. At the speed with which the maintenance companies work on projects currently, they will nowhere near finish anything on time.

        I know it’s a bit of a cliche, but all I see are concrete blocks, cones, wire railings and the odd ‘worker’ standing around surveying the scene or talking with a colleague….or sometimes you see two wrokers watching a colleague using the controls in a digger and not really achieving much. I am seriously considering setting up a cones company. Anyone want to invest?


  11. Nick
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:45 am | Permalink


    Road taxes should pay for the roads and nothing else.

    1. All taxes should be clear
    2. A tax for a specific purpose is clear.
    3. No one other than road users pay for the roads.
    4. The price is clear.

    Fat chance of it happening.

    7,000 bn of debt (6,000 bn still hidden off the books, and no sign of election promises being fulfilled)

    Interestingly today there is talk about the law on common purpose. ie. A member of a gang commits a murder so all are guilty of murder.

    No wonder the commons want to change the law.

    After all, it would apply to people committing fraud, in particular running Ponzis.

    • sm
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      Hypothecation it would never happen, i guess that’s the problem.

      Perhaps we should be looking at why it was not kept in proper repair? Perhaps with a few sackings sans payoffs.

      I dont have a problem with payg approach, the operators of the roads could be private or public. Again, each registered car could be charged VED with an inclusive peak mileage allowance, the rest could be per mile or bands.

      The operator could be paid for by based on a number of criteria, eg the number of carmiles divided by journey minutes, with penalties for accidents speeding or closures.

      The choice is between government run & regulated or privately run and government regulated. Can government regulate properly and sensibly anymore?

    • uanime5
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

      The law on common purpose is much the same as ‘constructive murder’, which ceased to be a crime because Parliament felt that people who hadn’t committed a crime shouldn’t go to prison.

  12. Iain Gill
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    the same arguments about health service capacity? nhs capacity is artifically throttled by long waits, and waits to queue to see someone to put you on another queue and so on. the nhs is a joke i really wish you had not mentioned that disgrace to the nation it upsets me so much thinking about what they get away with.

    as for roads no public sector roads are rubbish, lots of its subcontracted but the public sector as ever has no clue how to manage subcontractors properly. i dont think its really a case of public versus private. yes taxes on road use are crazy and far more than the roads actually cost to use, if you dropped the price of road use to what they actually cost the tax man would need to get another tax stream coming from somewhere else. on the whole freedom of movement is good, slowing people down for no reason is bad and just adds to pollution and wasted time. on the whole i would commend the views of to you on all these matters, in fact i would advise the conservative party to take all their policies.

    have you seen

    do you think some power meters are worth 12 billion of the countries money at the moment?

    • Mark
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

      I think “smart metering” is more about being able to selectively cut off supplies at a whim. With present energy policies, we’re going to be facing a lot of blackouts and brownouts in the next few years if we close power stations in accordance with EU directives.

      • alan jutson
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Permalink


        You mean peolpe need to be reminded to look at a smart meter to understand that leaving a light on in an unused room is a waste of Money !.

        You do not need a smart meter just a dose of commonsense.

        This Huhne type thinking is madness.

  13. javelin
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    John, whilst I agree privatising roads sounds a good idea the issue is one of freedom for most people and not one of cost. I commute most of the time by train and never use the motorways – so I am paying my car taxes for very little in return.

    However I am paying for the option to change my lifestyle at no cost . Or if a need arises I can be sure I can travel without a cost. When I am a pensioner for example I know travel will be free.

    I think paying for travel is like the window tax – taxing sunlight. It simply goes against what people think should be paid for.

    Having said that I would argue strongly that 100% of vehicle tax should be spent on the roads AND the public sector needs reforming – as it seems to exist for its workers and not the public.

    Reply: Poeple pay bridge tolls even though these are part of a network “free” at the point of use. Of course people would want to know a toll was not another rip off – taxes have to go down to compensate.

    • Iain Gill
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      people pay tolls unless they are in scotland where the scottish government decides to subsidise the bridge instead…

      tolls would never happen in scotland, would be just another tax that only the english would end up paying

      electoral disaster trying this on

      many more fruitful ways of raising money, tax the hell out of (named businesses he dislikes-ed)and so on… talk about “social justice” theres some justice just waiting for the politicians to get up and walk the walk and not just talk the talk

      • Iain Gill
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

        let me rephrase it then…

        tax more heavily those organisations earning significant sums in the uk but organised to pay tax, report on their accounts, and so on in tax havens

        tax more heavily those reliant on mass import of non EC workers, any multi thousand uk employee company employing over 90% of employees from outside the EC should have punative taxes

        tax any company that relies on a business model of importing staff from India and abusing and bullying them

    • Robert K
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      To reply: the rub is that taxes never do go down to compensate

      • zorro
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

        A sublime truth….


    • Winston Smith
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

      The Dartford river crossing had a toll to pay for its construction. This was paid for some years ago. The toll was supposed to have been scrapped, instead it has increased. Tax always increases to pay for the monolithic State. It cannot continue because increasingly people will ‘opt out.’

  14. Cynical Moi
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    JR (WRT Authorities):- They delight in making using the roadspace more difficult, with endless state interventions with the carriageways, signs, controls, rules and regulations. They take special pleasure in working out new complex rules, then fining anyone who has not grasped them or failed to see the changes in time.

    And privatising the road network would change this how exactly? The kind of pea-brained authoritarian half-wit that traditionally makes up the political classes would continue to meddle wherever the ownership of the roads was held.

  15. James Reade
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Totally agree. I just wish the system would be privatised in a simple way that actually worked – the idea is wonderful but in practice will never get anywhere due to the ideological blinkers so many people (including a surprising number of commenter on here) have against the word “profit”.

    • Tedgo
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink

      Your “..privatised in a simple way that actually worked” is the real problem for your point of view, your are obsessed with privatisation and profit but have no realistic understanding of how this could be achieved.

      Well other than you would like to price the poor off the roads to make way for yourself and save your precious time.

      • James Reade
        Posted January 19, 2012 at 3:31 am | Permalink

        Haha thanks for telling me exactly what it is I was really after – getting you poor riff-raff off the roads – of course!

        Er, no. I’d like a system that works for all of us. And there’s a much better chance a system that works for all of us will happen if the government gets its nose out of here.

        It’s only a few weeks ago I was being accused of being a leftie Keynesian. Who was it accusing me of that again?

    • David Price
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      I don’t think most people are questioning the profit aspect per se, that is too simplistic.

      If profit incentivises an organisation to provide a service well I have no problem. But I do have a problem where a facility or service was established by public funds then privatised and the same public having to pay again to use the same facility. It is even more insulting if the company execs were the ex-civil servants involved in the original provision – they don’t become magically customer oriented simply because they are paid differently. Worse still is when the facility is bought by foreign companies and the revenue and profits go abroad.

      Even if the company pays an amount to represent a capital outlay for the facility it still does not benefit the people who originally paid for it, believe they have already paid for it and therefore feel have a right to use it freely.

      • David Price
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:20 am | Permalink

        I meant to add that I don’t know what an acceptable answer to the conundrum would be, but to simply ignore or write off the view that people believe they are being blatantly disenfranchised or stolen from will not win votes.

      • James Reade
        Posted January 19, 2012 at 3:33 am | Permalink

        Few things.

        1) Why does it matter if the profits go abroad? If the service is good, why does that even enter the equation?

        2) Yes the resources were built using the public purse, but nobody is denything these things need serious maintenance. If the private sector does that, and better than the public sector (which I can well imagine it would), then why don’t we let them do it?

        • David Price
          Posted January 19, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

          If we had a reasonable balance of payments foreign ownership probably wouldn’t matter but a) we don’t and b) many of these countries don’t take kindly to foreign/British company ownership themselves even, or especially, after they have been given the skills at the expense of UK jobs (ie earning capability).

          Winning an export contract can be much, much harder than a local contract, so why make things unnecessarily worse for some dogmatic reason when your competitor countries don’t follow the same free market dogma?

          On your second point, my issue is not about the profit making as such. If a private sector company can do a better job then certainly let them do it and if they can make a decent profit even better. But, not if it means them being allowed to gouge the public, eg the current energy supplier setup.

          By all means try this approach out, but run it as a set of small scale prototype first, prove it can work to everyone’s benefit, actually saves money and raises service quality/standards then roll it out as a competition based service.

    • uanime5
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

      The problem is that profit usually comes from poor customer service and gouging the customers.

    • zorro
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

      I wish that the health service could be privatised/paid through personal insurance, and efficiencies in the diverse provision of services could be made, thus cutting the cost to the taxpayer who decides to live a healthy life but is constantly subsidising the feckless and dissolute……..Maybe I’ll continue to be disappointed!


  16. Tedgo
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    I have nothing against private companies financing and operating toll roads like M6T. I am against handing over roads the motorist has paid for many times over to private operators to make large profits.

    But it has nothing to do with the decay and maintenance we are seeing in the concrete structures. These structure are allegedly designed to last 100 to 120 years. However with concrete it all comes down to design and workmanship. I have always been impressed by the smooth shuttering and finish of Swiss concrete, to keep the rain and frost out, whereas UK shuttering always seems to be any old bit of plywood leaving a rough finish to concrete.

    Obviously that salt water has got to the reinforcement is probably poor design, particularly the wrong choice of reinforcement materials, and poor workmanship. Whether the road was built for a public or private owner the same design and construction firms would have been used.

    • A different Simon
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      “Whether the road was built for a public or private owner the same design and construction firms would have been used.”

      …. and by the time problems had reared their head would most likely have been long gone and probably out of business .

      My experience is in computer systems and the three main criteria from customers over the last 10 years have been cost , cost and cost .

      This ends up creating an innefficient , disfunctional market .

      When the bean counters take over you can kiss goodbye to quality .

    • Mark
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

      An interesting assessment of M6 Toll:

      This page of Macquarie’s accounts reveals most of the details of the loss making on the M6 Toll:

      Note that MEL is now owned by a demerged MQA. The bank took its money and ran before the asset was sharply devalued in 2009 from £1.25bn to £234m.

      Reply: The report is very one sided, but does reveal 40,000 vehicles per working day use the toll road. The accounts point out the tolls pay costs and interest charges.

      • Mark
        Posted January 19, 2012 at 11:05 am | Permalink

        The tolls of A$99.0m barely cover the interest bill of A$90.2m (which is actually the effective hedged bill for interest because they took out swaps to lock in a rate of 5.67% which looked like a sensible decision 8 years ago when the road was being built and probably will look sensible over the life of the concession), and leave a large loss after their operating costs of toll collection and ongoing maintenance of A$65.5m, and management fee of A$22.9m. (Figures converted in the accounts to AUD)

        Perhaps the crunch will come in August 2015, when according to note 5 of the accounts the loans of A$1.5bn are due to be refinanced. Perhaps the Chancellor will have little sympathy for Macquarie, given the history revealed here:

    • James Reade
      Posted January 19, 2012 at 3:33 am | Permalink

      Would it bother you if that company made profits by providing you with an excellent, smooth, functioning, clear, un-congested road? Certainly wouldn’t bother me.

      • Tedgo
        Posted January 19, 2012 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

        I have no problem with people making a reasonable profit providing they offer good service and value for money. I have no dogmatic view that private is better than public.

        Take the main access road to our village. Some private cable company dug it up to lay cable TV. They allegedly reinstated the road. Ever since then, after heavy rain, the road develops large pot holes. The council send in a private contractor who shovels in a bit of tarmac.

        What the council need to do is repair the road properly by removing and reconstructing the top two feet and send the bill to the cable company.

  17. Bernard Otway
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    The comments by Primly Strain and Adrian Strain ,have finally convinced me [after 30 years in South Africa until 2008] that the vast majority of the populace ,have had more than 50% LOBOTOMIES in my absence,until today when I thought like this,I chided myself I was being unkind to my fellow countrymen.BUT finally the straw broke the camel’s back.
    As for private companies continuing to ‘SWEAT” the asset,a private company would have either properly maintained it OR built a new one to replace it when it fell down,IF NOT why are not old tween deck ships still sailing on the high seas instead of container ships,also
    why are there brand new Planes added daily to the worlds fleet. I DESPAIR !!!!!!!!!!!

    • A different Simon
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      Thats how it may be in some companies and might have been in the past but the current trend towards awarding management bonuses on the basis of short-term horizons means it’s not commonly the case in less safety critical businesses .

  18. Mike Stallard
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Our local highways are just that. Local. There have been improvements over the last 50 years (!). The A14 has been built. Peterborough has been motorwayed. So has the A1. Otherwise, pretty much the same as they always were. Meanwhile cars have changed radically – faster, safer and much more comfortable. Guess which of the two are nationalised?

    Let us extend your idea of privatisation though. The Zeitgeist is totally against it.
    IDS was sidetracked by the House of Lords. Andrew Lansley was derailed, but I do not know by whom. George Osborne has not made any cuts, as you yourself point out quite rightly. Education is being hijacked by the DfE. We all know that the Academies programme is a false front for a take-over by the DfE from local Counties.

    The Railways, Scottish Independence, “sustainable energy” are all direct results of the EU. Somehow it always ends there, doesn’t it.

    So I deeply regret that the Spanish motorway system is not going to come in here any time soon.

    • Bazman
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

      Maybe we should have concrete tyres and rubber roads in this case then?
      Spain has one of the highest number of road accidents and deaths in the EU.

  19. Bernard Otway
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    The comments by Primly and Adrian ,have finally convinced me [after 30 years in South Africa until 2008] that the vast majority of the populace ,have had more than 50% LOBOTOMIES in my absence,until today when I thought like this,I chided myself I was being unkind to my fellow countrymen.BUT finally the straw broke the camel’s back.
    As for private companies continuing to ‘SWEAT” the asset,a private company would have either properly maintained it OR built a new one to replace it when it fell down,IF NOT why are not old tween deck ships still sailing on the high seas instead of container ships,also
    why are there brand new Planes added daily to the worlds fleet. I DESPAIR !!!!!!!!!!!

  20. Brian A
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Spot on. Whenever governments run things there is a tendency to inefficiency and waste. Those who argue that privatised industries are no better than their nationalised versions clearly did not live though the 1970s.

    In the specific case of transport there is more than incompetence involved since recent governments have, in the name of green concerns, declared war on individual transport, particularly road and air travel. This ideological stance is leading to serious malinvestments, so we have HS2 aimed at elite high fare paying travellers, while serious improvements to key commuter rail and road links are essentially ignored. How long will it be before we have ‘Zil lanes’ for our undeserving elites, while the rest of us continue to move through our cities more slowly than in Victorian times?

    • Mark
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

      Just a few months. They’ll be all over London before the Olympics.

    • zorro
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

      ‘Those who argue that privatised industries are no better than their nationalised versions clearly did not live though the 1970s.’…..The phone service is the best evidence for this assertion.


  21. Rebecca Hanson
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    It’s very dangerous to take one example of failure and extrapolate that to a whole system.

    Concrete is a difficult medium to work with in these situations as once it hits the end of it’s design life (typically about 50 years) it can start to fail catastrophically and effectively need to be completely replaced. In many cases it doesn’t fail and can be closely monitored and maintained beyond the end of its design life but in this case it sounds like it’s gone and to be fair if you were going to pick a structure which was likely to go this one the Hammersmith flyover would be high up there on the list.

    I don’t don’t think there’s any evidence to suggest that private ownership would have prevented this problem. It would still have gone, causing massive inconvenience and needing to be repaired at huge cost.

    What’s needed is coherent planning to deal with these situations which are bound to arise. If politicians hijack the tensions they bring to give their pet projects this is less likely to happen.

    Yes our roads are pretty well run.

    If we need to privatise them to save the country from bankruptcy then that is very sad and is unlikely to lead to significant improvements in the way they are run. It’s more likely to lead to overall increases in their cost as there are more layers of management and profit to be funded.

    • Iain Gill
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      hammersmith flyover was originally designed with underfloor heating to de-ice it. the design allowed for that and therefore no road salt was expected by the designers, and hence corrosion of the steel cables would have been a non problem, and there was no need to encase the steel cables in plastic or other measures.

      pretty much as soon as it opened the underfloor heating failed and rather than fix it they just started using road salt in winter for ice and snow, this seeped down to the cables and caused the corrosion.

      the original design team didnt plan for the road being salted every year!

      so in many ways the decision never to fix the underfloor heating took the bridge outside its design spec and any failure due to corrosion is to be expected.

      • Rebecca Hanson
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

        Many thanks for your much better explanation Iain.

        The question we need as then to better understand this issue is whether the same catastrophic failures in the management of infrastructure which happened in the 1960s and 1970s are still happening.

        Do you think they are?

        • Rebecca Hanson
          Posted January 18, 2012 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

          and of course whether those failures would be avoided by private sector management. Experts I know are deeply sceptical that they would be given the nature of the tendering processes and the types of engineering issues involved.

        • Iain Gill
          Posted January 19, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

          Re “the same catastrophic failures in the management of infrastructure which happened in the 1960s and 1970s are still happening.” not sure I entirely understand what you are getting at, but yes I suppose.

          the fashion for tower blocks of council housing in those times is now looked on as a disgrace, lacking in proper evidence, counter human nature, and so on. there are many current examples that will come to be seen in the same way in years to come, road thinning and many of the anti car measures for instance especially in clear cut cases like the main highway between the city centre and the nearest A & E dept (have a look at the route the ambulances have to run on blue lights in Coventry, it is an absolute scandal the artifical blocks put on their most common route by the road planners )

          same with planning restrictions, the fantasy land we are having built where the planners dont want garages or drivewways and all the real people do EVEN THE ONES WHO DONT HAVE CARS

          through to the planning system incentives that lead to tiny rooms in new houses and so on

          through to the social engineering keeping different demographics apart and forcing them to go to different schools and use different health services and so on

          on the roads I dont understand why the A1 is not turned into a motorway from Leeds to Edinburgh, its probably the most obvious example of a route crying out for upgrade

          the way the roads are subcontracted leaves a lot to be desired

          etc etc etc

      • outsider
        Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

        Fascinating. Helps to explain why the Chiswick flyover a couple of miles down the road, built to a much-mocked, brick-faced reputedly obsolete design, still appears to be fine.

        • alan jutson
          Posted January 19, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink


          Chisick flyover.

          I think it It underwent considerable refurbishment more than a a couple of decades ago, where many of the bricks were replaced after spalling (frost damage) I think the brickwork is just an attractive decorative face for what I believe, is in effect a concrete structure.

          • alan jutson
            Posted January 19, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

            Oops Chiswick !

    • Mike Stallard
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      I absolutely loved your website!
      I have been on here now for a couple of years and, Rebecca, I would go mad without it! So would my long-suffering wife!
      OK so I am on a Mac and that is more virus proof – I assume you are on a PC – but have – touch wood – so far survived……..

  22. English Pensioner
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    One of the reasons for this type of problem is that there is no way of making the public sector account for its actions or of holding anyone responsible.
    Fining public sector organisations is pointless, all they do is to either put up their charges to pay the fine or cut their services. All that happened when hospitals were fined for failing to meet standards was that they had even less money to spend in order to do deal with the matter.
    Nobody ever gets fired in the public sector. Has the Hammersmith flyover problems occurred under private ownership, someone at high level would certainly have lost his job, or at the minimum it would have been made clear that his career was at an end; in the public sector such people invariably seem to get promoted or find a similar job elsewhere. Again, citing the NHS, how often has someone left one NHS trust under a cloud (but with a compensation cheque), only to be re-employed by another Trust within a few months, or even worse, return as a consultant?
    It is the management (or rather lack of management) which is the problem in the public sector. As a retired engineer, I am sure that someone at a lower level would have reported potential problems with the flyover in sufficient time, but I suspect action was not taken because it “is not in this year’s budget”.

    • uanime5
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

      Had Hammersmith flyover problems occurred under private ownership someone may have left the company with a golden parachute, then gone to work in another company. Sir Fred Goodwin wasn’t punished for what happened at RBS.

  23. backofanenvelope
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Before we privatise the roads, let us look back at the privatisation of the utility companies. This is something I liked, because for the first time in my life I owned a stake in my country. Before Mrs Thatcher, only people like Tony Benn owned the utilities.

    But what happened? The regulators happened. The Civil Service struck back and achieved control without ownership. Then the they managed to sell the utilities to foreign companies.

    As to the Hammersmith flyover; identify those responsible, sack them without reward and cancel their pensions. You’d only have to this once or twice.

    • uanime5
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

      Regarding those responsible are you referring to the people who built the Hammersmith flyover but didn’t make it salt water proof, those who put salt on the road every year to remove the ice, or those who realised the main tension cables were damaged and decided to fix them before the flyover collapsed?

    • Iain Gill
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

      re “identify those responsible, sack them without reward and cancel their pensions. You’d only have to this once or twice.” there are road engineers who have designed accident blackspot after accident blackspot. they are NEVER brought to book. we hammer drivers for driving a few mph safely but slightly over an arbitary limit but we NEVER go after the folk who designed a road junction (yes often from scratch) that is self evidently a death trap. some of these engineers work for the big engineering consultancies and have done the same up and down the country for different public bodies, some are public sector staff. there should be a feedback loop that brings big accident blackspots back as a problem to the folk who designed them like that. indeed all designs should be being reviewed by high miles advanced drivers and not just engineers.

      but the public sector finds it easier just to lay the blame with the public.

      • uanime5
        Posted January 19, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

        Surely it’s the fault of the regulators, not the engineers, for allowing such unsafe designs to be built. Also it’s not the fault of the designer if their design was improperly built.

  24. Atlas
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    As an example of traffic-hostile administrations making life unpleasant for drivers you just have to try driving through Cheltenham. Complex traffic light systems abound, what used to be straightforward is now a great time-waster (and petrol waster). So much for the minor coalition partner.

    • zorro
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

      I did this recently. What a nonsense that was! I did get lost (it doesn’t happen often) trying to get out of Cheltenham but I thought then that whoever designed it must have had a migraine…..


  25. startledcod
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 10:48 am | Permalink


    You have absolutely hit the nail on the head. I was late for dinner on Monday as a result of the Hammersmith Flyover situation and Mrs Cod eventually insisted I stop going on about the woeful management of our roads or she wouldn’t go out.

    Try driving into Central London from Dover/Folkestone, the route is a disgrace.

    With this post you have connnected the hammer and the nail perfectly.

    • zorro
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

      There is a good fast train from Dover into London now though which is an improvement.


  26. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    As a generalisation companies run as close to the line on health and safety and customer satisfaction as they can while making profit. Typically support and maintenance activities are the first items to be cut back or deferred in the event of a downturn in profits.

    The government does exactly the same thing, although in a much more disjointed way, when budgets are under pressure. I just don’t think that private industry would be any better at maintenance in the long run.

    Arguably the maintenance costs of any major asset should be hypothecated and ring fenced to place them beyond casual reduction for short term purposes.

  27. scottspeig
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Surely a better way would be incentivise the highways agency to keep them open – calculate a cost that is fair, add a little, and then give that money based on amount of traffic and free-flowing open road. If the road is closed, they get less money. If it is congested, they get less money, if it is rarely used, they get less money etc.

    That way, they get paid to have high volume, low congestion traffic on open roads. Perhaps incorporate the money in staff bonuses to encourage hard work.

    Basically, run the highways agency as a private company but owned by the state. If it starts going wrong, sack the staff and replace. Job done surely?!?

  28. Martin
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Part of the problem with roads is the planning system. Even the last Conservative government couldn’t widen the M4 due to the opposition it faced in its’ own constituencies. I doubt if Brit Roads plc would have any better luck.

  29. Andy Hopkins
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Hi John

    You make a fair point, but one that I believe misses the vital heart of the issue.
    The roads, like the rail (and others) are national assets. The taxpayer has bankrolled this asset for many years.

    If the roads are then privatised, then a revenue stream (the profit) of the operators is removed from the normal return that the owners and original investors (the taxpayers) should expect. Where there is a natural monopoly, such as roads and rail, there is no mechanism to let market conditions defend the users.

    There is a common thread when people look at these issues and that is to overlook the role of the taxpayer as an investor. It is not in the best interests of the taxpayer
    to sell monopolistic assets to outside investors.

    Far better to do as you suggested previously and maintain ownership whilst allowing an operating company to manage the asset, at a fixed rate of return (in a similar way to a property agent).

    This would achieve the efficiencies that are desirable, whilst maintaining the asset for the taxpayer.

    The nub of the issue if that the Government is notoriously bad at managing national assets on behalf of the taxpayer, so it is only this component that should be outsourced, as we the original investors should maintain the ownership of our natural assets.

  30. Robert K
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    It’s hard to know if a private sector provider would have maintained the Hammersmith flyover any better than the public service provider, but you can be sure that the consequences to a private company of such a cock-up would be much more severe than it is for the state.
    The practicalities of privatising the road network may seem daunting but the principle of it should be right at the top of the transport agenda.

    • uanime5
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

      What’s worse is that major cock-ups by companies have to be paid for by the state. The banking crisis is a good example of this.

  31. StevenL
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    It’s an interesting discussion, but it’s all rather academic. If they can’t even sell a few bits of woodland due to public hostility, what makes you think the Coalition will be able to sell the motorways?

  32. javelin
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    “Sorry – we’ve run out of money” – note to self from world.

    IMF seeks $1 Trillion to protected Europe – but who from. In a world where everybody Government owes more debt than they can afford – who is to pay the IMF an extra $500 billion. When they can’t even get anybody to cough up the first $500 billion.

    I think we need to look at this simply …

    1) Funds (pension funds, wealth funds, hedge funds etc) – have a certain amount to lend.

    2) Governments – can only tax so much – have a certain amount to lend.

    3) When Funds lend more to Governments that they can tax then Governments go bust.

    Its that simple. The IMF asking for an extra $500 billion – is merely asking those Governments in debt to max out their credit cards to pay for the others who can no longer meet their montly repayments.

    • Conrad Jones (Cheam)
      Posted January 19, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      There are TWO forms of Money:

      1. Government Created Money (currently only exists at notes and coins)
      (3% of total money supply)

      2. Bank Lending (97% of total money supply)

      Only 3% of the Money supply is what we would regard as “Money” – altough it does not retain it’s value.

      97% is “Credit” – but is accepted as money in the form of Bank Deposits. 97% of our “money” supply is debt.

      There lays the problem. We owe the Interest Payments our money supply to Banks – because that is where the majority of our money supply comes from.

      Now – I’m no economist, but even I know that we use to have between 15% to 20% Government Created Money (debt free to the Tax Payer), that meant that the Government did not have to make up the shortfall by issuing Treasury Bonds (Government Debt) which incur Interest Payments on Tax Payers.

      The erosion of Bank Regulations – imposing restrictions on Bank Lending; allowed our money supply to explode, causing the relaitve demise of Government Created debt free money.

      This is why we are in a Debt Crisis. We need to consider whether our monetary system needs overhauling.

  33. Ruth
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    Here in Lancashire the County Council has increased the money set aside for road maintenance and is making big improvements in the amount of roads completely resurfaced and the quality of interim repairs. This is particularly the case where it has taken responsibility for roads from local councils who neglected them for years. So a big “tick” for LCC there, we are all happy to see our council tax spent improving our areas.

    However, at the same time the LCC has become rather over-zealous about speed limits and is determined to make residential areas, particularly near schools 20mph zones. To that end it is spending our money putting up new signs and now I notice monitoring actual speeds driven – most people are ignoring these new limits. When the kids leave school you can’t get up to 20mph anyway! Talk about pointless expenditure, and it hasn’t gone down well with the local populace, we pay for the signs, we are expected to drive at 20mph in 3rd gear, thus increasing petrol consumption on roads which are perfectly driveable at 30mph 90% of the time.

    So on one hand an improvement in road infrastructure, rather let down by nanny state interference in speed limits, road signs (of which we have many more now) and exuberant painting on the roads in the name of safety which largely involves painting chicanes and cross hatching across the centre of roads to encourage us not to crash head first into the driver on the other side of the road, because of course that’s what we would all do if left to our own devices.

  34. barry laughton (@kil
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    The motorist using the roads are also subsidising the rail passengers as no trains in the UK cover the costs with their revenue stream. So the government (you and me) provide a top up. Are railways worth it?

  35. James Power
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Inherently I believe in a small state with little government involvement in anything. However, I do think national infrastructure is best served through centralised planning and spending. Look at the mess that the rail network was in pre-nationalisation! The key is simply to maintain, improve and invest in these key national assets. Instead they have been left to rot.

    The Dept. of Transport is (or should be) accountable for maintaining the road, rail, waterway and airport networks. The problem has been the politicisation of decisions made by the DoT. The hemp-wearing, limp, “eco mentalists” have somehow managed to make spending on infrastructure a dirty thing. The country has a road network suitable for a population of around 40million. Now we have close to 70million, and nowhere near enough road capacity. Private transport is far more efficient than public, people prefer it, people elect governments, governments should serve the wishes of the people.

  36. Conrad Jones (Cheam)
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    The UK road network: ‘far too little, far too late’
    10 March 2009

    “The total tax take from Britain’s road users has risen to £45.9bn, but government spending on road capacity is a mere £4bn. Including maintenance, signage, lighting and so on, total road spending still only reaches £8.4bn.”

    How much did the Tax payer LOSE when Northern Rock and RBS were bailed out?

  37. Conrad Jones (Cheam)
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    I would like to remind you of something – that is that the Banking Sector is supposedly a Privately Run Business – I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your notice that there has been a Financial Crisis recently resulting from either gross incompetence or gross fraud, or possibly both. Your argument is based upon the fact that a Private Business always runs things more efficiently than Public funded (democratically controlled) ventures.

    The Post Office is a public concern and I would trust it more than some Privately owned delivery services. Having said that I am not as biased as you concerning Private and Public. There are excellent privately run delivery services also.

    Instead of this agenda of yours to rid all Publicly Financed expenditure (which should also include Bank Subsidies may I add – which are the most wasteful), perhaps it would be more useful to find out whether the local MP for the Hammersmith Area had investigated this problem. If not, perhaps we should get rid of our Political Representatives while we’ve got the chainsaw out.

    Reply: The private sector had a quicker and better way of dealing with failing businesses than the state does. Rip off businesses will not attract custom where there is competition, but if the state rips us off we have no choice. I was an opponent of taxpayer bail out of the banks, recommending controlled administration so the owners and bondholders took the hit rather than the taxpayers.

    • Conrad Jones (Cheam)
      Posted January 19, 2012 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      You were right to oppose the Bailout. I agree with your views on that.

      Please can you clarify this comment:
      “…but if the state rips us off we have no choice. ”
      Are you saying that we do not have a democracy?

      Unfortunately, you know – as well as many others; that because our Banking System creates our money (through Fractional Reserve Lending), that if we did not bail them out, the Banking Sector would have taken our economy over a cliff as the money supply would have collapsed. We cannot afford to pay off our debts and we cannot afford to carry on increasing them. It’s a “Catch 22” situation. No Debt, No Money. Selling Leases on our Roads is not going to help – it’s going to increase costs to motorists as Private Businesses need to pay their Loan Charges, Sharholders and others costs in addition to what the Government would pay.

      “Rip off businesses will not attract custom where there is competition”

      “Rip off ” Banks are supported by the way money is created, until Politicians realise that the Government can create the National Currency instead of leaving it to the control of Banks, then your desire to see true competition will never exist. It will be the Banks who have the most political influence that will succeed through more subsidies and less regulations. By ignoring the Money issue you support a Socialist Welfare State for Banks.

      If you really support Free Market Capitalism (as I do) then help campaign for Government Created Money (via MPC control). Who is really setting the Policy in this Country – is it the money creation sector who actually controls the economy?

      Even the Bank of England knows how insane our monetary System is.

      Reply: The problem with the state running and owning too many servcies and assets is the ability it gives to the state to rip us off in ways which may not be altered by a General Election. If a company overprices you go to a different supplier. If the state overcharges you have no choice until you get to an election, and then your choice may still be limited, as all the main parties might find it convenient to overcharge – as with motorists.

      • Conrad Jones (Cheam)
        Posted January 19, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

        Thank you for your reply.

        I agree that the main Political Parties adopt very similar policies. The Election process is a very blunt instrument for the voting public.

        I would say that the Government should maintain Infrastructure type services – like Transport; but should not favour one Private Business over another. It is arguable that the Monetary System is such a monopolistic form of infrastructure that ONLY the Government should control it through Setting Monetary Policy – such as Inflation Targets (and should then create or withdraw money from the System). The Government should not distort markets by setting Interest Rates. This is the Tail wagging the Dog.

        However, with the Road Privatisation scheme – the choices are also restricted.

        It would be interesting to know what happens to the surplus of Road Taxes. Presumnably it get’s spent on: NHS, Police, Education …?

    • Conrad Jones (Cheam)
      Posted January 19, 2012 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      “The private sector had a quicker and better way of dealing with failing businesses than the state does. ”

      That’s true – they got Gordon Brown to use the Bank of England to generate £200 billion to bail them out and the Government commenced an era of Austerity measures for the people who were not directly responsible for creating the debt crisis – except through their ignorance.

    • Electro-Kevin
      Posted January 19, 2012 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      Lots of private sector businesses rip us off too, Mr Redwood.

      Within the state sector there has been a failure to control bureaucratic empires and senior wage/pension demands. This doesn’t mean to say that we need to privatise essential infrastructure to sort it out.

  38. Michael Read
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    I think I’ve fully road-tested the road financing option on my teeth and on the rails so I’m sticking put, thank you very much.

    On another matter, news today that the IMF is raising over a $1 trillion from the mugs, including yours truly and your good self. Any thoughts?

  39. David B
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately it is the mindset of the civil service and to many politician agree with them. It will not change until the civil servants who are responsible for these activities are treated in the same way the private sector are dealt with. Heads need to roll for incompetence.

  40. uanime5
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    John your article is severely flawed.

    Firstly if VED and petrol tax are collecting more money in taxes then is needed to maintain the roads then the solution is to reduce these taxes, not sell the motorways.

    Secondly every long weekend the rail industry is shut down for maintenance because the private companies think it is just fine to inconvenience thousands of people. This works because commuters cannot switch to a competitor.

    Thirdly if the cost of keeping the Hammersmith flyover open during the Christmas period was going to cost more then the money the private owner would make during this period then they wouldn’t hesitate to shut down it down. Though if they were going to make a large profit they would leave it open no matter how unsafe it was.

    Fourthly your claims that a private owner would have maintained the flyover better is laughable. Private companies have a long history of ignoring safety in exchange for cutting costs and making greater profits, usually with disastrous results. The Sampoong department store in South Korea collapsed killing thousands because the owners wanted to add another floor, fired the architects who said it was unsafe, then hired architects who agreed with them. The Union Carbide Disaster in Bhopal which killed thousands and maimed many more occurred (with allegations that-ed) severe cost cutting meant the fail safe systems were ineffective or broken.(etc ed)

    Fifthly given that the Government hasn’t clamped down on the rail industry for poor services, lack of capacity, and rising fairs it’s unlikely that the Government would do anything if roads were completely or partially shut for a long period of time.

    Sixthly John unless you’re a structural engineer you’re in no position to decide the safest way to fix the main tensioning cables. If they cannot be safely replaced or repaired when the flyover is in use then the flyover has to be closed until it has been make safe. Allowing stores to make more money or winning political points is no excuse for delaying or hindering essential repairs.

    Seventhly stop complaining about how the public sector fixes roads unless you have evidence that they’re doing it negligently. Just because you don’t like the speed and manner in which it’s being repaired doesn’t mean that it is being repaired improperly.

  41. Conrad Jones (Cheam)
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    “Road supply is used as one of the main reasons for VED and petrol tax, yet they collect far more in taxes than they spend on the roads.”

    Yes – agreed.

    So we are paying more Road Taxes than are being spent. The Government is UNDER spending in this case. Either the Government increases it’s expenditure or reduces the Taxes.

    “The total tax take from Britain’s road users has risen to £45.9bn, but government spending on road capacity is a mere £4bn. Including maintenance, signage, lighting and so on, total road spending still only reaches £8.4bn.”

    So we are underspending by £37.5 billion. This shows uncommon prudence in a Government Budget. I hope you reccomend the Department of Transport for an award for saving the so much. What was the £37.5 billion spent on?

  42. Barbara Stevens
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    As a person who does not drive I’m sceptical about private ownership of roads, after seeing the level of care taken on the rail network. This was privatised, and it resulted in several accidents from multiple owners, who none said they were to blame. There is not enough legislation in place to limit this ‘its not my fault’ brigade.
    Would we have this kind of thing in place if the major roads were under private care, and how much would they charge to use them? The public road authorities don’t always get it right, but you do know who owns them, who as the responsiblity for them, and who can be blamed and litigation can be taken against them if they fail. With private ownership this endless question of ‘who’s to blame’ goes on for years, and cost people lots more money for representation. I don’t some how trust private owners to do the best for the public in situations like roads, the private railroad responisbility as shown this to be lacking.
    Reply: there were unfortunately some bad accidents on the nationalised railway before privatisation, and no evidence that privatisation made safety worse.

  43. Mactheknife
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    The problem with having private companies run roads for profit, is that profit will become the complete focus of operations. Will they run it safer – probably not. Will they have to close for maintenance – yes probably so.
    Also I travel in the US quite a bit and toll roads there cost cents, whereas toll roads here cost several pounds per trip.
    Can you explain why this is John ?

  44. Martyn
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    Motorists pay heavily for using the roads and the government takes from them a monstrous amount of money, and fails to put it into road maintenance (other than constructing more humps, chicanes and barriers to make life as difficult as possible).

    If all – and I mean all – of the money taken from motorists was disbursed to the local authorities responsible for roads, to be spent ONLY on roads then life would very soon improve for the average motorist. Oh well, back to my pipe-dream, it’s more enjoyable than driving in the real world…

  45. lojolondon
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    You are right John, especially in your example of the Hammersmith Bridge, but there are flaws in your argument :
    – The cost of collecting fares is ALWAYS a very large proportion of the total revenue, normally around 50%
    – Tolls ALWAYS lead to congestion and accidents
    – Where a driver can drive, say, from France to Denmark, crossing Germany and using their roads, but never contributing to the infrastructure there is a powerful argument for tolls
    – But on an island like ours, there is never a good argument for tolls
    – Especially because in the 60’s they brought in parking meters ‘to make the people who use the roads pay for them’, in the 70’s they brought in road tax ‘to make the people who use the roads pay for them’, then they charged tax on petrol ‘to make the people who use the roads pay for them’. So we now pay for our roads several times over, how then can you take those roads, built with taxpayer’s money and give it to a private owner, to raise the price as he sees fit, on a one-way escalating rate based on inflation etc.
    – Last objection, this is such a clear licence to print money that I bet Richard Branson will be offering right now to take every road you will give him.

    Better idea – take ALL the money from petrol tax, and spend it, only on roads, for one year. We will have the best roads in the world!!

  46. ITF_Tory
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    A government has some core responsibilities, which are defence of the realm, law and order (which includes police, courts and prisons), plus commercial laws to allow companies to operate. It’s all basic economics – without these an economy wouldn’t be able to operate. Then there are a list of desirable responsibilities of government, which include things such as healthcare, education, etc – but probably the top of this list is transport, the bulk of which is roads.

    I do think that a centralised road system makes sense, but Mr Redwood is certainly right about the high (and ever increasing) taxes we pay to use them, and the low (and ever decreasing) expenditure for their upkeep. I recall a figure of 7:1 as the ratio of road tax taken against highway maintenance in this country. The equivalent ratio for the USA is 1:1. It’s typical of this country’s government over the decades to introduce more and more, and higher and higher taxes, each one with a supposed reason and benefit, only for those taxes to go into a central pot, which is then wasted.

    A good transport system is extremely important for an economy (again, this is basic economics). Why can’t politicians understand that roads in good condition actually benefit the economy? Instead, they treat roads and road users as enemies of the economy.

    I’ve no doubt that, at some point, a government in this country will introduce road tolls, charged per mile driven and dependent on the specific roads used and time of day. This will be on top of the existing road tax and fuel duty.

    Our taxes paid for the roads to be built, and we then have to pay more taxes to use them.

  47. Javelin
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    I think the real issue is getting to grips with the public sector.

    Several things ring true with me

    1) that the unions protect their own more than the service. Michael Goves recent changes to education supporting children and not bad teachers needs to be extended. Clear lines need to be established between unions members and the public good.

    2) the idea that money from taxing roads should escape into the treasury in general is wrong. A large percentage from petrol and vehicles needs to be transparently kept. Where roads harm health then this needs to be passed to the NHS. Negotiations between ministers and the treasury needs to controlled by semantics and not by needs. Simply because the public sector can argue for needs until the cows come home.

    3) the public sector workers need to be more accountable. In the private sector this is done by profit. In the public sector an equivalent to profit needs to be found. Firstly this requires all public sector accounts to be made available to the public. The currency of politics is votes and not money. This means workers in the public sector must accept electoral bankruptcy and the possible loss of their jobs. Voters should be able to shit down badly performing sectors. In the private sector it is accepted you take the risk of a job and it’s your lookout if the company goes bankrupt the same must be true in the private sector.

    4) management bonuses in the public sector must have a claw back clause. What’s good enough for bankers is good enough for the public sector.

    Etc, etc.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted January 19, 2012 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

      I’m glad you mentioned bonus claw back.

      I’ve often thought that ‘fines’ raised by regulators on organisations such as the NHS and Police Forces are pointless. The taxpayer ends up paying them. But if fines were levied on the bonus ‘pot’ the bonus earning part of the organisation would be very keen to avoid fines.

      Job done.

  48. Jon
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    Okay maybe I can see an argument for some motorways where there are limited access points for toll gates and where there is an alternative such as an A road. Having that alternative would mean its not quite the same as the railway monopolies. I can’t see it on roads such as the A4/Hammersmith one as there are too many entry points for toll gates and not much of an alternative, just lots of bottlenecks.

    • Daisy
      Posted January 19, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      Toll gates wouldn’t be necessary if the London Congestion Charge system were to be used, where cameras identify the vehicle registration number on entry and exit, local residents get a concessionary rate and pre-payment attracts a discount.

      My concern is that, like the railways, motorways are not subject to genuine competition – nor could they be, short of covering the entire country with roads and tracks. The franchise operators would simply exploit a captive market, as has happened with gas, electricity and water (switching providers provides the illusion of choice, but in the long run makes no difference at all).

      As for the idea that road charging would enable the construction of more motorways, whatever sense it might make logically it would be a political nightmare. Think of the Hammersmith flyover; quite apart from its alleged structural mismanagement, it is an eyesore. However, as a public amenity its utility trumped its aesthetic and environmental impact, and people reluctantly put up with it. Can you imagine the outcry if such a structure were to be proposed to be built to generate private profit?

  49. Bazman
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    “This restaurant is to busy. Who do I have to pay to leave?”
    The real answer is probably toll roads, but you know that this will just be in addition to the rest of the taxes, so why not just make fuel twenty quid a gallon and save the trouble?
    The fictional private owners of the bridge in this country who would most likely be foreign, operating a shell company within another shell company and skimming off profits that are sent to some offshore tax haven. They would have probably run the bridge into the ground for as long as they could get away with it claiming tax breaks and grants all the way, then going bankrupt and expecting the taxpayer to rebuild the bridge. Who would after a full investigation stating the obvious, but with no individual to blame. Trebles all round.
    The idea of fining a private company, if need be by the hour for delays and closures is great in theory, but would never work in practice. Another railways/utilities privatisation and everybody knows it. This is why most of the population are dead against it and will the fantasists when they have to pay. Never very busy on the M6 toll road when I go on it and the profits say the same. The next fantasy is an A14 Toll road. Lets see how that one goes after the government cancelled a £3 billion upgrade.

  50. Electro-Kevin
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    “They [roads] are dear to the taxpayers that pay for them”

    This is because road users are a milch cow for taxation which gets spent on other things. If they were only charged the £9bn pa that actually gets spent on the roads it would be far more affordable.

    If the full tax take were spent on the roads we’d have the infrastructure that you say is lacking.

    All of those charges: complexity, fining, lack of planning, lack of investment … can be levelled at the privatised industries. ( I’ve just watched TV about fuel surcharges on airlines.) I expect there will be yet another water shortage this year – where is the new water storage capacity that privatisation should have brought ?

    The complex new rules for which the motoring fines apply emanate from government and the EU. The privateers involved in road camera partnerships and the ACPO officers who retire to head privately run driver re-training centres (kerr-ching !) will still want their pound of flesh regardless of the system for financing the roads.

    Or will road privatisation beget a relaxation in law enforcement and a rejection of legitimately enacted legislation ? How will the – innevitably – worstening accident stats play out for your Government.

    Privatisation of crucial infrastructure is not the panacea that it is made out to be. As I’ve said before, much of our de-nationalised services has become re-nationalised in ownership of foreign states anyway.

    What is wrong with the roads is that most of the funding raised from drivers goes nowhere near the roads.

    Returning to your first post on this subject, the object of which is to ‘raise more cash’ to service the national deficit …

    We are talking here about spanking the productive, aspirant and hard working sector (those who’ve ‘got on their bikes’) to fill a black hole because no-one has the bottle to make the cuts which were promised at the last general election.

    • Electro-Kevin
      Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

      PS, ‘Spanking the productive ‘ ?

      Well yes. ‘Fares’ are bound to be higher – the main impetus for a privateer taking the management of a road on is profit. Not a dirty word in my book (we all work for profit) but I fail to see how this cannot add to costs or cause economic distortions in the localities affected.

  51. Frances Matta
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    Our road network hasn’t been updated in the time it has taken for our population to double.

    “What did the Romans do for us?”

    • Bazman
      Posted January 20, 2012 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

      As everyone know. They gave us wine.

  52. Daedalus
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    Having worked in the private sector as a Senior Engineer covering up to 5 UK productions sites for a $2B a year business and for a smaller £50M family owned business amongst others, few except the family business looked after the assets very well.
    One place I worked at (I resigned after 4 months in disgust at how they did not look after the assets ), had never looked after the very basics of the fixed assets which were the absolute foundation of what the business was about. The maintenance budget as it was could have been spent 3 times over without a penny being wasted, but it got cut again. The production director would say he did not care about how the equipment performed because we always had at least 2 weeks of stock in the warehouse (part of the company policy) but as soon as we had problems with machines not performing it was all hell on about why it was not working and no you could not have more (money/parts/spares/staff/consumables) delete as appropriate. And this was part of an £11 Billion pound turnover UK business.
    As a separate issue I have covered £multi-million projects with an original budget that was up to what was needed, this then gets cut so you buy cheaper equipment. One example is a machine to collate bottles into packs and wrap them in shrink wrap plastic 12 bottles at a time. The machine has to run at 45 packs a minute (always better to over spec on this) but the machine that “fits the bill” runs at 47 packs a minute and cost £275,000, the one we should have bought runs at 60 packs a minute and costs £400,000 so a saving of £125,000. Or is it? Machines rarely if ever run at over 85% efficiency in even world class performing companies. So 47 * 85 % = 40 packs a minute. Can you see the problem yet? The 60 pack machine is 60 * 85% or 52 packs a minute. Can you see what happens here? The 60 pack machine can run at 78%efficiency and still keep up, this is high even now. Because the 60 pack machine is well within its operating limits it can run for 24 hours a day 6 days a week (1 for maintenance) 312 days a year. The 47 pack machine is run flat out and still cannot keep up so it is made to run 7 days to try and get product out of the door. No maintenance and it fails more often, it runs slower and by the year end it has run at 60% efficiency or 28 packs a minute. In this instance the lost revenue per pack of 12 bottles is about 3.5 pence. Lets say the 60 bottle machine actually runs at 40 packs a minute, that is 12 packs a minute extra at 3.5 pence per pack = 42 pence a minute. Thats 42 pence * 60 minutes * 24 hours * 6 days * 52 weeks or if my maths is correct 18869760 pence or £188,697.60, so where has the saving gone? Any reasonable engineer can work this out; for some reason those with the purse strings don’t get it. Which is why I no longer work within a production environment, I now go and audit other peoples kit and tell them it needs mending or not, I have no more input than that, no worries, no midnight phone calls.

    Someone somewhere will have been making comments to those that control the purse strings that the flyover needs looking at; “we need to do this now or else”. Others will have said well we can get away with it and then this happens which will hit someone else’s budget.


    • alan jutson
      Posted January 19, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Permalink


      Ah yes the wonderful accountants with a sharp pencil, that only ever tend see the cost outlay, not the hidden savings over a number of years.

      As a qualified engineer I see your logic, and I to applied that sort of thinking to my own business for years, always had a little in reserve, just in case.

    • Bazman
      Posted January 19, 2012 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

      Don’t work like that. In one place I worked in for a number of years they would run the equipment into the ground and repair on the run making the operators and maintenance people work harder using skills, but constantly saying there was no skill or work involved. Err! What are we doing here then? At that point they where walking off. More to it than the above.

      • Daedalus
        Posted January 20, 2012 at 10:03 am | Permalink


        You are right of course, there is more to it than that. I was trying to make the comment that the reason the flyover was out of action for weeks was short sightedness from probably a lot of points of view. The main thrust of the post was that you need to take a longer term view sometimes. Large PLC’s in this country at least don’t seem to be able to do this, just look at how boards of directors are only too happy to sell out when it suits them (better share holder value, but bugger the staff) so to speak.


  53. Billi
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    200 Billon a year ? Was that not the expected take from the Europe wide road pricing scam ? The black box in the car, Galileo spying on your every move. You know that John, so do some of us.
    Forget it. Freedom of travel is more important then afew of your mates getting a cut. Very, National socialist. Very Mosleyite. We pay tax. The local govenment provides the roads. Keep it simple and make the civil servants do their jobs well or fire them.
    Oh. Don’t forget the extra money required to place all those cameras on those gantries on the motorways, to foil the screening of the Black Box transponders. Very expensive them.

  54. Alex Sabine
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    In many ways I agree: roads do share many of the characteristics of badly run nationalised industries. Your point about the cavalier way in which repairs are carried out is well made.

    However it is a mistake to think there would be no capacity pressures if they were built and maintained by private companies. For one thing, their ability to build more roads would presumably be heavily circumscribed by planning constraints, of the sort that shire Tories are defending in the last ditch currently in the face of the government’s proposed reforms.

    Moreover, there is a ‘rising/excessive demand’ as well as ‘insufficient supply’ side of the equation, as with other services supplied free at the point of use such as the NHS.

    At times of peak demand the key trunk roads and motorways in the Southeast would remain overcrowded, and it is unlikely that capacity can be increased to a point that some form of ‘rationing’ (either via congestion or via a price mechanism like tolls) would not be needed.

    If you want to tackle congestion, and reduce the associated costs to the economy, then action is required on both the supply side (improving the existing road network, targeted extra capacity at key pressure points, action to tackle bottlenecks) and the demand side (charging for road use on the busiest roads at times of peak demand).

    This is why the principle of road-user charging, as first suggested by Alan Walters in the 1960s, is a sound one. Of course the devil is in the detail, and I am wary of schemes that would involve intrusive surveillance; if these concerns could not be addressed, then we should settle for a lower-tech and more selective form of pricing like the M6 toll.

    John, you say: “It is common for the public sector to say there is no point in adding capacity because people will want to fill it up. I am glad they do not make the same argument about health service capacity.”

    They may not say or acknowledge it, but that is the reality in the NHS, which is one reason why we still have a problem with waiting times and waiting lists despite all the money chucked at it by the last Labour government.

    Now, there may be reasons to do with the economics of healthcare or social justice why we do not want to go down the charging route (and instead must focus relentlessly on reforms to improve productivity). But I am not convinced they apply to (all) roads, so I’m attracted to some of your recent proposals on the road network.

    You also say: “Road supply is used as one of the main reasons for VED and petrol tax, yet they collect far more in taxes than they spend on the roads.”

    Of course the other reason for petrol duty is to price-in ‘negative externalities’ like pollution – although I suspect the UK level of duty over-corrects for this, with road transport taxed disproportionately. However, my point is that congestion and pollution are separate problems, potentially requiring different solutions.

  55. zorro
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    John, have you had the pleasure of driving through Slough recently (maybe as a homage to Betjeman) and interfacing with the ‘Heart of Slough’…..improvements. I had a long day at work today and was faced with a traffic jam at Slough station at 1930hrs (well past the rush hour with taxis trying to get out of the station, cars getting out of the car park, cars coming out of Tesco and cars coming down the one way road to the station. They were all then coming out of the station exit on the one way road which now has the benefit of a bus stop with buses often parked there blocking off half of the road.

    The new bus station is er….. modern but doesn’t offer much shelter to those waiting for buses on a wintry day.

    The roundabout on the A4 has been filled in with a ridiculous 4-5 foot rise into the centre and made into a crossroads with loads of traffic lights, and a much slower traverse. Perversely, when they were (they are still ‘working’) filling in the roundabout they got rid of the traffic light and had two lines. Guess what?….The traffic flowed perfectly which doubtless frustrated the planners and Huhnites seeing people actually move in their cars causing emissions so they pressed on with filing it in and bringing back the lights….Oh yes there will be more pavements and trees which will help the traffic management by stopping you effectively dropping off passengers at the station or parking anywhere near there.

    Of course, we should all remember that huge traffic jams of cars using fuel do not cause pollution or emissions or whatever….since Minister Huhne came into power rather he has caused the fumes to transform into the odour of sweet smelling rose petals in Kim Jong Il style imitating his renowned command of nature!

    Really so many things now in the matter of public policy are just beyond parody…..


  56. Alan Redfield
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    “To me, our road system has all the characteristics of badly run nationalised industry monopolies.”

    An excelllent and succint summary of the disgraceful way politicians have allowed the national road infrastructure to decay, whilst throwing motorists’ money at their political client groups. John, I wish you would take up this issue seriously and use it to beat those responsible. Most of the roads in the provincial areas are dirty, unkempt, bedraggled-looking, litter-strewn, potholed, lumpy, neglected third-world cart tracks. Which is fine in Albania, because no one pays any tax – but not in the UK, the 4th largest and one of the most highly taxed economies in the world.

  57. Mark
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

    I found this report which may explain something of the HA problems:

    The number of staff with the necessary skills to manage some contracts was diminishing, while the agency only had four quantity surveyors at the time of the NAO review, the report said. The agency has lost over 50 engineers over the past five years.

    The NAO said there were “shortcomings” in the agency’s management of some maintenance contracts, with quality control mechanisms focusing on checking compliance with contract requirements rather than on the costs or quality of the work done.

  58. Reaguns
    Posted January 19, 2012 at 1:45 am | Permalink

    Another article for the scrap book. Private democratic control of roads eh. This is the dream. How could we ever get it passed in this country with all the ecoloons, unreconstructed socialists and their zombie armies.

    How great it would be to be able to effectively say “Can I travel on your road at 90mph, with whatever kind of petrol I want, and very little traffic?” “No.” “Not good enough, I’m going to the road beside yours – I guess he gets to buy the merc this year, not you.”

    How could we get this considered in this country though? We’d have to start with one road, make the operating company promise to donate a percentage of profits to the NHS or something directly.

    There was talk of running the M6 Toll in the way John has suggested wasn’t there?

    It’ll never happen though, we are stuck with a leftist country.

  59. mart
    Posted January 20, 2012 at 2:48 am | Permalink

    Dear John,

    Here is my opinion on the idea of privatising roads.

    You need fair and open competition if the private sector is to provide a public service.

    How can this ever be provided, unless parallel roads are allowed to be built to serve the same traffic over the same route?

    This is the same difficulty as is faced by privatisation of the railways, and is the same reason I do not personally support either.

    Very kindest regards

  • 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.

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