Over Labour’s long years in power from 1997 to 2010 the public sector received plenty of spending to help it on its way. This was all called investment, and some of the money did indeed go into investment. Despite this there was no productivity growth at all in this large part of the UK economy. The government needs to turn its prime attention to boosting public sector productivity. It needs to work with its own staff – and the employees of the all the Councils and quangos – to help them work smarter and achieve more for less cost. That is what productivity is all about. That is what the UK manufacturing sector has been doing well year after year.
The problem with the lack of public sector productivity gains is not just that it reduces the performance of the whole by depressing the average, but the poor performance of the public sector in crucial areas like transport does damage to the private sector as it tries to become more productive.
The national and local highways authorities do not make getting to your destination in your vehicle their priority. Councils seem to take a delight in shutting the roads to vehicles as often as possible. They persist in allowing the placement of pipes and cables under main roads, so every repair or improvement requires digging up the road. Many Councils seek to take roadspace away from general vehicles for priority routes for buses or cycles, instead of supplying additional safe capacity for special users. Roads are closed for long periods after an accident or incident, and long after anyone injured has rightly been given priority and rescued. Councils phase lights badly, holding up traffic on the main routes in favour of minor routes or pedestrian crossing when there is no-one wishing to use the green phase and no sensor to realise this. Councils put in far too many sets of traffic lights, deliberately creating traffic jam traps that never flow.
Meanwhile the nationalised railway, Network Rail, gobbles huge sums of money and delivers very little new or better. Large sums go on changing from diesel to electric, when what is needed is more capacity and more reliable and intelligent signals. The nationalised railway impedes development of its substantial property estate, demands ransom payments from Councils and others that wish to bridge the railway line or make other improvements near rail routes, fails to think about total journey times and the difficulty of getting to many stations and parking there, and leaves parts of its estate in poor condition.
The government’s productivity drive should have short and long term programmes to deal with these major blockages to our economy. For our local roads we need
1, Roundabouts to replace traffic lights at difficult junctions
2. More traffic sensors on traffic lights
3. More left and right turning lanes at junctions to improve flows
4. More bypasses
5.Fewer permissions for road closures
6.All replacement pipes and cables to be placed under pavements or verges with easier repair access
7.More bridges over railway lines and rivers, as a shortage of bridge capacity is often the single main cause of peak congestion into and out of main towns and cities
8. Cycle routes provided safely away from main A roads
What we need for our nationalised railway will the subject of a future post.