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Posts Tagged ‘transportation’

Rail fare hikes and tough talk on welfare waste: Today’s problems will not simply be solved by continually taking more from pockets when there is even less to replace it.

January 2, 2013 1 comment

With a 4.2% average rise in ticket prices hitting rail commuters today, just how long do politicians think that rises in the cost of essential services, utilities and products will remain ‘sustainable’?

Stories such as this one and also the attack on welfare payouts by Iain Duncan Smith in just the past two days alone demonstrate just how little emphasis there really is in dealing with the root causes of problems, which may be unpalatable to those in power, but are nonetheless very real indeed.

As a businessman with both conservative and capitalist principles, I have enthusiastically embraced the opportunity to be both enterprising and entrepreneurial throughout my career. However, I also learned very early on that there are basic laws at work within business, one of which is that costs will generally be fixed, but profit will always be variable.

Where this goes wrong in the economy is in situations where those in control of businesses are able to fix minimum profit margins and then seek the cost of investment and renewal through price hikes which usually only affect people and other businesses who themselves have no ability to raise their own incomes or margins to cover those very same costs.

Those reading this who have experience of the commercial sector in its broadest sense will know that the circumstances which generally allow this darker side of capitalism to thrive, only exist within monopolies or within industries which provide services or products which people must have; many of which were once in public hands.

The history which has given privately owned businesses the ability to dictate the ‘breadline’ or to become able to ‘profit in misery’ is a long one. Profligate spending by idealistic politicians who believe in the principle of something for nothing, simply created a situation which left others with a more realistic understanding of the way that an economy really works with little choice in the way they had to respond.

The age of privatisation was soon born and responsibility for its evolution cannot be levelled at the door of any one Conservative, Labour or Coalition Government, as all have played their part since the 1960’s.

What can equally be said is that no one person who can ask for the votes of many thousands of people, can reasonably expect to retain any sense of respect as an MP if they have accepted that responsibility and then failed both to recognise and then to act upon the damage and pain that such levels of power are causing in the wrong hands.

Yes we need travel fares that make a job worth travelling for. Yes we need reform of welfare, benefits and taxation so that there is an incentive for all to work and stay in this Country. Yes we need managed investment in just about every area of life and infrastructure that we could conceivably imagine.

But we also need Government which is responsible, confident in taking risks and ready to deliver reforms which may well include legislative restructuring of businesses offering essential services in order to limit what they actually make.

The failure of Government to ensure and safeguard basic costs for independent living is a root cause of many of today’s problems and will not simply be solved by continually taking more from pockets when there is even less to replace it.

Toll Motorways: No Government can continue to charge the Taxpayer time and again for the same things and expect to be taken seriously.

December 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Latest headlines suggest that the DFT is now open to the idea of privatising new roads, and George Osborne is also now considering charging tolls for existing Motorway use too.

Perhaps many of us are mistaken, but don’t we already pay for this in ways such as Road Fund License, Fuel Tax, Vat on vehicle purchases, Vat on Fuel, Vat on vehicle repairs, Vat on Tyres, Corporation Tax on Companies providing the same etc, etc??? To be fair, the list probably goes on a great deal further; and that is about the only great deal that the Taxpayer and businesses seem to get when it comes to road use and transport.

One of the most significant tragedies and missed opportunities of this Coalition Government was the given acceptance on the part of so many of us that the Country’s finances are in a hell of a mess and that we had been fully accepting of the need to implement changes and policies which would have absolutely smashed the age of political correctness that is wrapped around and protects so many of the root causes of our problems. Changes and policies that if implemented, would easily have began to address the real problems which a post 2015 Government may well try to cover up with yet another return to profligate spending.

Few people or businesses can exist or move forward in the UK today without transport and therefore road use entering in to the mix at some point. The financial burden which accompanies road use is already arguably higher than is sustainable. So simply loading further charges on users who cannot earn more or charge more, when every other cost continues around them continues to rise, is simply outrageous.

Before anything else, existing Motorways require better management. Today’s technology may well allow for every vehicle to be ‘chipped’ and for road space to be allocated to keep overcrowded roads moving, whilst purpose-specific taxation is generated on a per mile basis. But such moves simply cannot be adopted as a method of raising additional fees and would have to replace or consolidate existing systems which do not fairly reflect levels of use and do not intelligently support the growth and competitivenness of British business.

Privately built and operated toll roads may themselves bring a timely solution to the hole in funds for new infrastructure, but will again ultimately allow profit to be made from essential services and functions for public use, where focus on the bottom line will only ever lead to even greater problems for the end user.

Top to bottom reform of all areas of Government, Benefits and Taxation are the only way that the true depth of this Country’s problems can ever be addressed and finding politically expedient ways of reducing the thin layer of jam between the bread in the Taxpayer’s sandwich may solve a problem today, but will leave the whole thing tasting rather sour tomorrow.

Politicians must now accept that you cannot charge the Taxpayer time and again for the same things and expect to be taken seriously.

Local Council decisons that really aren’t that local at all…

It was great to be present at the Annual Parish Meeting of Ashchurch Rural Parish Council within my Ward last night. But listening to questions raised within Public Participation reminded me of just how easy it can be for Councillors to take for granted what people actually know about the 3 different Tiers of Local Government and how equally easy it is for problems to arise when the expectation of the Electorate is simply left unmanaged.

As an Elected Member and Chair of Licensing at Tewkesbury Borough Council myself, I have witnessed first-hand how the frequent misunderstanding of where responsibility actually lies for the different functions of the tiers of Government can not only cause confusion, but create serious disappointment. More often than not voters can be left feeling that Councillors are completely out of touch – even at times when some of us are actually just as frustrated as the residents from within our Wards and feel obstructed by the views of bureaucrats that most of us will probably never meet.

Perhaps the area where this problem is most evident is within the quasi-judicial functions of Planning and Licensing.

The Planning process itself creates an almost continual air of controversy and mistrust; a matter not helped by the seemingly ubiquitous tales of corruption and ‘back-handers’ which seem to accompany a good percentage of conversations on the subject. Such tales of course would suggest that real decisions are actually made at Local Planning Committees, but the truth is not so straightforward, with Councillors and Officers (under delegated powers) simply interpreting Planning Law which has been set centrally by Officials and MP’s who may never have even been within a hundred miles of the location to which the Legislation will be used to apply.

Such a system is too broadly set to consider the very local factors which really should inform Planning decisions and this has been only too painfully apparent not only to Villages within my Ward, but to the wider Tewkesbury area since the July 2007 Flooding Event. This itself was perhaps the perfect example of why local people should be making locally informed and constructed decisions about local Planning issues, without the fear of overruling from the Secretary of State.

Licensing presents different, but nonetheless equally frustrating challenges which again restrict the ability of locally Elected Councillors to really deliver decisions and solutions which are based completely on that locality and the local evidence which it provides, rather than relying upon a centrally-led Legislative Policy which doesn’t provide anywhere near the flexibility and level of responsibility that those Elected to do the job should actually have.

The 2003 Licensing Act brought the Licensing Authority function within the fold of District Councils and away from Magistrates Courts. There is a lot to be said in favour of this specialist area being dealt with by trained Councillors on dedicated Sub-Committee panels which are of a similar format to a Magistrates Bench. However, the benefits are lost by the right of Appeal being automatically passed back to the Magistrates Court, where one might respectfully suggest that the trivialities of cases such as a Licensing Hours extension for a Town boozer or that of a Private Hire Drivers License for an unemployed jobseeker with 6 or more points on his or her Driving License will be seen to do no more than take up unnecessary time that could be spent more effectively elsewhere.

Real parity in both Licensing and Planning could be achieved by developing this type of system further to allow both functions to use the Sub-Committee panel system, but by also restricting and focussing the right of appeal so that the system cannot be left open to the potential misuse and manipulation of specialist advisors who know exactly what approach and to what level they need to take a case in order to achieve the result that their client wants, which may well not be in the interests of the wider population.

We have heard David Cameron talk a lot about Locality and giving power back to local people. I’m afraid that to date it has looked all too much to me like the age old story of taking back with one hand what the Government and Ministers such as Eric Pickles have given with the other and people just aren’t as stupid as such actions would suggest some Ministers think.

If the Coalition Government really wants to empower local people, there are many ways that they could do so and reform of the decision making processes and guidelines for both Planning and Licensing Law allowing local factors to be prioritised would be a significant start.

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