The word ‘trust’ has been much bandied around but as far as the electorate seems to be concerned the words trust and politician should not be used in the same sentence. True, there has been mention of health, education and pensions, but these are the trusty and worthy standbys in the politician’s lexicon and in an election campaign are as inevitable as summer rain.
Where is the vision, the plans for a bolder, brighter future not only for the individual elector but for UK plc?
Gordon Brown tells us of 50 quarters of uninterrupted economic growth, implicitly telling us that the Conservatives contributed at least one-third of this, but how does he plan to maintain such a record?
Where are the forecasts for the future, the investment plans, the resource implementation?
But let me turn from criticism. Instead let’s look at what we need from the new government of whatever colour – red, blue or yellow – that may be formed.
First, we need less and better regulation. These are in effect, two sides of the same coin. We need to rid ourselves of the morass of red tape that increasingly is strangling the lifeblood of corporate Britain while ensuring that the regulation which remains promotes greater competition both within and without the UK.
The Better Regulation Task Force, in its report ‘Less is More’ proposed eight recommendations for reducing the regulatory burden on business, largely based on a successful model in Holland. I propose that the new government adopts and implements these recommendations without delay.
Then we need fairer taxation on cars and other vehicles. The BVRLA wants to see the emphasis on ‘fairer’ rather than ‘tax’, but above all we have to remove the ridiculous system of hindering business activity in our city centres. In hiking the London congestion charge by 60% and extending the zone westwards despite 75% of consultation responses opposing this, Livingstone has given the lie to the fact that his masterplan is nothing but a revenue raising exercise. And it’s an exercise that will do nothing but damage business both in the original and extended zones.
Rather than hinder business from going about its reasonable activity by imposing penalties for entering a particular area we should do something more positive. If, as Livingstone claims, congestion charging is more about air quality than traffic congestion and certainly revenue, then we should impose a higher cost on higher polluting vehicles on the principle that the polluter pays.
We must continue to invest in our transport infrastructure, both in public transport and roads. In 1998, John Prescott introduced his white paper on integrated transport.
We said then that it was ‘long on rhetoric, short on detail’. Sadly, that is still the case. While more recently, Prescott launched a 10-year plan for transport costing £180 billion, at least a third of this was to be financed by private money and a significant proportion of the remainder was ‘old’ money, already allocated to transport. But real investment is needed if we are to reduce the cost of congestion currently running at £15 billion annually. We need cheaper, more efficient public transport. We need better traffic management. We need to bypass bottlenecks and improve junctions.
Without improvements such as these, then businesses will suffer. And we should never forget that it is business that builds the economy, that fuels the growth and generates the revenues that funds the health service, schools and pensions.