By Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation.
The Budget marks a sad end to a period of keen anticipation for those of us who recognise the vital importance of a reform that would deliver the road infrastructure needed to cope with growing population and economic recovery.
A year ago the Prime Minister recognised the problem and announced an aspiration for pension funds and sovereign wealth funds to step in and provide the necessary capital. Civil service reviews into national roads strategy and the feasibility of new funding and financing models were duly completed in the autumn. But in the Autumn Statement announcements were delayed until today’s Budget.
Except today there weren’t any. The Budget confirmed that the government has no plans to reform Vehicle Excise Duty in the life of this Parliament. That essentially kicks the whole subject into touch.
So what are we left with? There is a possibility that a discussion document on road funding and financing may be published in the summer. There is a possibility that some of the new increased capital spending plans by £3 billion per annum might be for roads: but it does not start until 2015-16, there will be other pressing claims on it and it only amounts to a ten percent increase on current levels.
Meanwhile, there remains nothing for the private sector to invest in. There are some welcome new government funds for maintenance and to relieve pinch points—but there is no proper roads strategy and no committed funding to go with one. We still await a National Policy Statement on roads and railways. We await a promised National Transport Policy. The crucial A14 languishes whilst local controversy over tolls are resolved and a complex local funding packages is negotiated.
The Budget announces “a focus on delivery … an enhanced cadre of commercial specialists in Infrastructure UK who will be deployed into infrastructure projects across Government, and the establishment by the summer of tough new Infrastructure Capacity Plans to drive forward progress in key Government Departments…” So what has been going on over the last year?
It’s all vague talk. Without institutional reform, including some way to bring in new money nothing much is going to happen. Our road network will become less and less adequate for a growing, civilised county.