Technical and financial changes for personal travel

There are two possible revolutions for personal travel. The first is more people switching from owning to hiring a vehicle when they need one. The second is self driving cars removing the need for a driver. Let me make it clear I am not recommending this all be made compulsory or will happen in the next couple of years! I like many people need to own a  car to do my job.

The average UK private car  travels less than 8000 miles a year. This means it is only in use on the road for 11 days a year. For the remaining 354 days it is parked.

If many more  went over to hiring in a car when needed the numbers of cars could fall substantially  and still leave unused vehicle capacity to allow for non use overnight, for areas of low demand  and for maintenance of vehicles. This would have major consequences for car makers, for tax revenue from vehicle ownership, and for the need for parking.

In practice it is easy to see more city dwellers opting to rent not own, but it is less likely to   catch on in rural areas where people depend on cars and where it is more difficult guaranteeing hire car availability when needed. It is also related to the development of the automatic car, which would be easier to hire in as they would come round to your home when you needed one.

The move to self driving vehicles will  take time. Legislators are not yet persuaded that the technology of the automated vehicle hits acceptable safety standards, and fitting automated cars onto roads with cars with drivers poses problems. We will move to a world where the car increasingly drives itself but a person is needed to remain in charge.

Parking is a big issue. We need  to make more  off road parking provision all the time we run on our current car ownership  model. We have insufficient road capacity, so we need to work to get parked vehicles off the highway.


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Safer junctions and less road congestion

The Transport Secretary has rightly identified the need for more capacity on Council strategic road networks to complement the increase of capacity being achieved through the governments investment in more capacity on the national network. I am encouraging Wokingham and West Berkshire to come up with schemes and bid for cash to take advantage of this initiative.

Much of the congestion occurs at junctions. Mixed use junctions are also a place of maximum danger of accidents where cars, lorries, buses, cycles and pedestrians can get in each other’s way. The more  that can be done to provide safe seperate routes for cyclists and pedestrians at main road junctions the better. The more that can be done to segregate turning  traffic from traffic going straight on a main road, the safer the junction and the better the flow.

My local observations confirm my view that roundabouts usually increase capacity  compared to light controlled cross roads. On the A329 Wokingham to Reading Road the busy junction with the Woosehill spine road normally flows well with a roundabout.  In contrast the Winnersh crossroads, a little west of the  Woosehill turning has a four way phased light set which causes traffic jams most of the day. The Earley peripheral road also flows well most of the time with a series of roundabouts . The jams occur at the main junction with the A 329 with light controls on the roundabout. This I accept is a busier junction anyway which poses additional design issues.

The best example of a roundabout scheme which has greatly improved flows and increased safety is the new junction with the A30 for the Eversley  Road A 327. It should be an example for other schemes. Where roundabouts cannot be fitted light junctions need segregated right hand lanes, short phase right turn sequences, and priority phasing for the main  route and flow at the junction.  Where there is a main road with side roads the main road should always be green unless traffic sensors detect traffic wishing to join from the sides.



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The BBC Today programme recycles the trade deal scare

I awoke to the one sided comment that prices will rise as we will lose access to the EU ‘s trade deals when we leave. Both the EU and the UK has to confirm with the other party to any given trade deal that we wish to continue as before after seperation. I do not know of any country wanting to end these arragements with either the rest of the EU or with the UK!

The UK government is discussing this with all the relevant countries to ensure continuity.

Once out of the EU we can unilaterally lower or remove the tariff on anything we like.

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Travelling sense

Just before Christmas the government floated the idea of charging lorries for road use instead of some of the current forms of taxation they pay. There was a suggestion they are looking for a way of ensuring that foreign trucks pay a fair contrubution for the use of our roads. At the moment a foreign lorry pays  no VED and can avoid fuel duties by arriving with a nearly full tank and leaving nearly empty. In opposition I and others proposed a Brit disc to ensure foreign trucks paid a charge like VED to level the playing field.

Some think this reform idea is a way for the Treasury to get ahead of the rise of the electric vehicle which will eliminate a lot of fuel duty revenue. The government, however, has made clear it is not considering applying this reform to cars and light vans, so it is not the solution to the rise of the electric vehicle undermining the motoring  tax base.

We have long experienced heavy taxation from a mixture of VED and fuel taxes on motoring which far exceeds the cost of monopoly provision and regulation of roadspace. No government is going to find an easy way of substituting revenue from sources other than motoring. Most  governments  positively favour taxing road travel as they see it as a problem rather than as a freedom and an economic solution for the supply of goods and services.

I am planning several blogs to explore how we can live with the car and van, enjoy the flexibility they offer, and find revenue streams as technology and regulatory requirements change the shape of personal travel. The change to electric if governments follow through with this demand poses one  set of difficulties.

Larger issues would be posed if the market took us over time to many more relying on hired in or time share vehicles rather than each owning their own car. Widespread adoption of hire in would mean a large reduction in the size of the car fleet, with obvious consequences for VED and other per car levies.

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Happy Christmas

I wish you a happy Christmas. I am having the day off, but send me thoughts if you wish.

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Christmas eve

Will Santa come for me? May you all feel the excitement of Christmas.

( Here’s one I prepared earlier)



“Will Santa come? Will Santa come tonight?”

“He might. He might.

 If you are good, he might.”

“Can I stay up and see?”

“No. He will not come for you or me

If we do not sleep .

He’s too busy to meet us all.”

“And will he come for us?

If you go to sleep – he does not like fuss.”



Tonight, by the lights of the tree

There is, at last, some grown up time for me.

The cake is iced

The wine is spiced

The carrots diced.


The pudding’s steamed

The brandy butter  creamed.

The turkey prepared  awaits

And yes, I did clean  the plates.

The tree is up, the table laid,

the cards are out , though the credit card’s unpaid!


So shall I soon with gifts a plenty

Mount the stairs to deliver twenty?

Do I dare to tread the stair?

And will it creak?

And will it creak?

When can I take a peek?

I need to know if they slumber

Before I arrive with my lumber.


If they are still awake

what dreams will go?

What heart might break?

Or do they know?

And is their belief just all for show?


So tonight by the magic tree

There is need of more time just for me

I will wait – and struggle to keep open my eyes

And  wrestle with the morality of eating  Santa’s mince pies.


My adult mind is full of Christmas chores

The cooking times, and the cards through neighbours’ doors

The parties  with  do not drink and drive in my ears

So the night does not end in tears

Drinks that might have been –  but not that cheap red

Which would give me a headache as soon as I got to bed


 I was once a child too excited to sleep

with a torrent of thoughts  about what I might be given

Hoping that it was a toy beneath the wrapping –  should I peep? –

Not more socks or hankies, preferably something to be driven


So could Santa still come for me?

Drowsily I dream as if I were eight

Hoping that Santa would not be late

Like every little boy

There is of course a much wanted toy


So will Santa come tonight?

He might, He might.

If you sleep well

and if you believe


Only if you believe.


And only if in your family

Love fills the hours you will be spending.

It could be the true Santa on the stair

Or it could be someone from an  empty chair.


So will Santa come?

He will. He will.



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UK growth rate revised up

Once again this week we have seen the UK growth rate revised up, both for 2016 and for 2017.  I drew attention to the strange downgrade of 2016 from 2% to 1.8% in the official figures at the time and queried it. Now I see they have put it back up to 1.9% so far.  There never was a shred of evidence that the referendum vote led to any loss of output growth in the second half of 2016.

The latest figures for the five years to end 2016 make interesting comparisons. Top of the pack was the USA at 13.1%, followed closely by the UK at 12.7%. Germany was the best of the larger continentals, at 10.8%, followed by France at 6.1% with Italy actually down by 1.8%. In 2016 with half the year after the vote the UK was the top performer of these countries.

The UK this year is likely to finish the year at a higher rate than many forecasts. There have been various reports of how our growth rate is now the slowest of the G7 but this looks likely to be untrue  and has definitely been based on unduly gloomy figures. It is the case as I have pointed out that the tax increases on property and cars have had an adverse impact on sales and activity of these items,  the official concerns about diesel cars in particular have depressed sales substantially and the Bank is seeking to reduce consumer and car loans.  None of this has anything to do with Brexit.

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Little Red white and blue riding hood – a topical Christmas story

One day Little Red, white and blue riding hood decided to visit her grandmother. She was told by her Mum to gather together a fish they had recently caught, some vegetables they had grown and some beef left from their big roast meal and take it with her to her Grandmother’s cottage in the woods.

She told Little Red, white and blue riding hood she needed to be very careful not to encounter the big EU wolf who these days prowled freely in their local area. She was to rush to her Grandmother’s without delay.

Little Red, white and blue riding hood thought this fear of the wolf was all a bit exaggerated. So what if she met the wolf? Other people said he was quite a nice wolf, and was likely to be friendly if you met him. No-one had ever been eaten by him and some said he wanted to help people grow food and look after their neighbours. So she set out with plenty of delay, pausing on her way to pick some wildflowers to add to her basket of goodies for Granny. She was secretly hoping she met the wolf, so she could tell everyone it was fine.

Before long Mr EU wolf appeared. He seemed quite polite, though his accent was a bit gruff. He told her she need not be afraid. He also said he now controlled the local woods, and needed to check her basket before she went on to her Granny’s. Little Red white and blue riding hood thought that sounded possible, and decided anyway as he was a lot bigger than her she had better co-operate.

When the Wolf saw the fish he was very cross. This fish is not the sort we let you fish he said. You must throw it away, as we have to conserve our fish stocks.

“How does throwing away this dead fish help conserve the fish?” , asked Little red white and blue riding hood. “Well if you can’t see that” said Mr Wolf “I can’t help you. It’s obvious. More importantly it’s our policy, so you either throw it or I have to arrest and fine you.”

Little Red white and blue riding hood decided there was no point in arguing, so she threw away the fish. There were plenty of other goodies left in her basked, after all. When the Wolf saw the  wildflowers he wanted to know where they had come from. He thought maybe they came from a special site of scientific interest where the wildflowers needed protecting. .

The Wolf then spied the vegetables. Goodness, he said, you usually  import these vegetables from the continent. I did not know you were still growing them around here. Anyway, in order to trade them you have to pay a large contribution to the EU, so I will need proof of payment before I can let you take these to someone. As he looked round to see how she responded, he realised he was talking to himself and she had run off in the direction of her grandmother’s house.

Not to be outdone Mr EU wolf knew a short cut and bounded to the cottage before Little red white and blue riding hood arrived. He knocked and pretended to be the old lady’s granddaughter, to get access. Once inside he demanded a substantial payment for the EU and proceeded to rifle the money from the old lady’s purse and from the stash under her mattress.

A little laterLittle red white and blue riding hood arrived. She was horrified to see the wolf taking money from  her granny. Before she could escape the wolf told her he was not like the story book wolf. He was a nice EU wolf who did not go round eating people’s grannies. He did however govern the wood and both Little red white and blue riding hood and  her granny had to follow his rules.

He was busily inspecting the vacuum cleaner to see if it complied with EU regulations to limit the power. He also sized up the bananas before joking that it was of course a myth that the EU wanted them to be straight. They were just fine, bent as they were.

Granny took on the wolf. She told him they had recently decided not to be in the EU any more so she had no need to obey its rules. She wanted to know what had happened to all the things  she had been promised.  Surely, she said there could be no rule that applied to her granddaughter just trying to help her out? The wolf told her it was not so easy getting out of the EU, and in the meantime all the rules still applied. Granny told him what she thought of the rules, and told him to mind his own business.

Whilst the argument was going on Little red white and blue riding hood slipped out and rushed to the local woodman to help. He immediately came, slipped an instant sleeping pill into  the wolf, and got the money back the wolf had been seizing. He then took the knocked out wolf far away from the cottage and his own home, into a deep foreign wood where he could no longer demand money with legal menaces of anyone or anything in red white and blue land. They all lived happily ever after, including the wolf who found lots of other woods to wander in, and plenty of new rules to enforce there. They got on better once Red white and blue land was out than they ever had before.

(Some versions of this story have a different  ending. They say the Wolf had some powerful friends in red white and blue land who helped him carrying on taking money from  people for many more years after he had gone. They say he persuaded people to carry on obeying his rules and importing their food. The poor old woodman was prosecuted for assault and Little Red Riding Hood’s granny had to accept his rules after all). I like happy endings so I don’t believe this second version.

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Catalan independence

I am of course neutral over the issue of whether Catalonia should be independent or remain part of Spain. It does not help  for outsiders to express voting preferences  before elections or referendums in other countries.

I did, however, find the BBC coverage of the Catalan election amusingly inaccurate. Before the poll they were running the Spanish government line that people were switching to parties that wanted Catalonia to stay in Spain, in response to the economic Project Fear campaign that the Spanish government were pursuing. Now we know the result,  nothing of the sort was happening. I loved the irony. The BBC was busily giving credence to the  views of the Partido Popular (a right of centre party it is alleged) that leads the Madrid government and has followed a thuggish policy of trying to suppress enthusiasm for devolved government and independence within Catalonia. That self same Partido Popular itself slumped from 11 seats to just 3 seats in the 135 seat Parliament”!

The one view I do hold is these matters of identity and democratic accountability are best settled by democratic means. If Spain had let Catalonia have a referendum to decide the issue the public may well have voted to stay with Spain, as Scotland did when we rightly offered them the choice. Instead, the unpleasant ways used to try to extinguish nationialist feeling has ensured the independence parties won this latest election. The EU, which used to encourage regional identity and regional political movements now seems ashamed of what it has helped unleash and will not speak out for a democratic way of resolving the tensions.

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The paradox of how the EU destroys traditional major political parties

Numerous commentators are interested in so called populist parties. These are challenger parties of the right and left ranging from Syriza to the Austrian Freedom party, including Podemos and Ciudadanos in Spain, and Five Star in Italy.  No-one apart from me seems very interested in why the traditional Centre right main party in each country, often Christian Democrat, and the traditional centre left party, often Social democrat, have collapsed or shrunk badly in so many places.

Just look at what has happened. Two main parties used to alternate  in government in continental countries like Labour and Conservative in the UK ,depending on how well they did with their domestic economic policy primarily. Today few of them are left in power and none has a majority. In Spain the PP leads a minority coalition which can scarcely govern. In Germany and  the Netherlands no majority coalition has formed. In Greece the two main parties were swept away by Syriza. New Democracy (centre right) has recovered to second place whilst Pasok (centre left) remains on 6.3% of the vote. In France both main parties were demolished by Macron’s new movement in Parliamentary elections. Mr Macron beat the National Front to take the Presidency. Neither former main party had a  candidate in the second round.

It is true many of these places have systems of proportional representation making it more difficult for a main party to get a majority. It is also true that Greece and Italy have systems with offsets  that give extra blocs of seats to first placed parties to try to create majorities. The French two round system allows a main party to get a majority through ballot by exhaustion.

The underlying problem seems to be EU and Euro economic policy. The traditional parties in each country are wedded to EU and Euro requirements.  The policies often do not work out well economically for many people, so frustrated voters decide to challenge the orthodoxy by voting for a challenger party. Many of the challenger parties are explicitly Eurosceptic. Wilders in the Netherlands, Le Pen in France and Grillo in Italy are hostile to the Euro scheme. The Austrian Freedom party is hostile to EU migration policies, as is the National front in France, the Freedom party in Austria  and the Freedom movement in the Netherlands. The AFD in Germany began with opposition to the Euro and has moved on to be in favour of more restrictive immigration policies.

Meanwhile in the UK the opposite movement has happened. In the 2017 election the Conservative vote share rose by 5.6% and the Labour share by 9.6%, taking the two main traditional parties to a combined 82.4%. In Germany the equivalent was 47.3% combined share for the CDU and SPD, in the Netherlands 30.4% combined, and Greece 34.4%. Why did this happen?

There were two main reasons. The first is both UK parties decided to accept the verdict of the referendum and became Eurosceptic. The UKIP vote collapsed as a result. The second is Labour cut loose from the austerity policies of the EU  budgetary system and offered to spend and borrow much more money. This proved very attractive to young voters who were told they would get all their large student debts paid off, a promise which Labour only admitted was impossible after the election.

By offering to take back control, and by having a genuine difference of economic policy and approach, the two main parties in the UK re captured most of the vote. On the continent the refusal of main parties to criticise any aspect of the EU approach left voters looking around for ways to change a  consensus that does not work for them.

It is the oddest situation I have ever seen in politics. Normally old well  establlished and successful political parties adapt and change, altering policy when the electorate want change. Instead on the continent party after party is being slimmed or dem0lished by sticking with Euro austerity policies. As the member states governments get weaker, so the Commission gets stronger. More powers will inevitably gravitate to the centre, making the task of national pro EU parties ever more difficult.



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  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, He graduated from Magdalen College Oxford, has a DPhil and is a fellow of All Souls College. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.

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