Privatising ‘the nation’s’ roads

The UK Government’s planned announcement regarding road privatisation and tolling in England is a puzzling move (see trails from the Independent here, Guardian here, and BBC News here).  It controls, of course, only roads in England; the building, maintenance and operation of roads in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is devolved.  So this policy is not just limited in scope, but over-hyped in its rhetoric; ‘the nation’s roads’ are only roads of one part of it.

The second element is the planned funding through hypothecating a proportion of vehicle excise duty (road tax).  As a solution, it will be attractive to potential operators of privatised roads as it will be a guaranteed revenue stream.  But if that’s to be done, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland’s devolved governments should get their share too.  (Should that share be calculated on the proportion of road miles in those parts of the UK, or population?  That’s a technical question that matters, given the large areas of sparse population in all three parts of the UK, with a lot of not-very-heavily used roads as a result.)

The announcement to be made today is only for feasibility studies to be carried out, and actual privatisation may never happen.  But the way it has been publicised suggests that no-one has aired these issues before the announcement was planned, which itself may suggest something about the role of spin and side-lining of normal policy-making under the Coalition at Westminster.  Moreover, it shows a failure to think carefully about what ‘the nation’ is (England or UK?) at a time when that issue has a particular sensitivity.  It’s almost as though Number 10 has bought into SNP rhetoric without noticing.

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4 Comments

Filed under Conservatives, Intergovernmental relations, Lib Dems, Northern Ireland, Policy issues, Scotland, Wales

4 responses to “Privatising ‘the nation’s’ roads

  1. Alan Jones

    This is a very poorly thought out policy by the UK Government not only is transport a fully devolved issue. The use of private companies to run roads already happens in Wales! The A55 across Anglesey is run by a private company, it is in effect a private road, which receives funding from the WG. There are no tolls the public do not see any difference. Nevertheless, it is a private venture.

  2. Mike Blundell

    That it’s the roads only in England that are being privatised has been downplayed. It’s similar to the water privatisation but devolution issues have a much much higher visibility now. There’s a lot of political events which raise the whole “who benefits” question to the surface, including the Scottish referendum, the rebalancing of the numbers of MPs, elected mayors and the squeeze impacting on England more then the Non-English territories. This will not go quietly.

  3. Dave

    Alan

    It further highlights the weakness of the devolution settlement, where decisions taken for England can often impact directly or indirectly on Wales, Scotland and NI. It’s the reverse side of the coin, so to speak, of the West Lothian Question, except that it doesn’t get the media coverage. Political instability is built into the system, as tensions inevitably arise. Devolution planned on the back of a fag packet in a smoke-filled room.

    I think we (in England, Scotland, and Wales) are on a unhypothecated one-way road to independence, possibly stopping at the federal services for a time on the journey. NI has been on an unnecessary trudge to the Republic since 1922, as it should have been part of it from the outset. Partition – another painful mistake made a former British government which cost a lot of lives and caused endless misery.

    Why, oh why, can’t the UK do anything right?

    Mike

    “…the Non-English territories…”?

    Would that be the rest of the world?

    Echoes of Empire?

  4. Hugo

    “Moreover, it shows a failure to think carefully about what ‘the nation’ is (England or UK?) at a time when that issue has a particular sensitivity.”

    Or is it GBR?

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