Where money goes

12 Nov

The way it works is like this: Money goes where money is.

A container port recently opened in Essex, on the site of an old oil terminal. This cost in excess of 1 Billion pounds and will be used primarily to speed the import of goods into Britain. Last year we had the Olympic games in London and a whole lot of new infrastructure was put in place in the East London area. The only major rail improvement in living memory was a decade ago when High Speed 1, (AKA HS1) brought high speed trains from the Channel Tunnel into London. Around London’s Heathrow airport the orbital road, the M25, is five lanes wide in either direction. The biggest development of any area since WWII was when London’s Docklands was developed about twenty years ago. Are you starting to get the picture?

No-one is arguing that London isn’t the biggest city in the country, except for those who believe that the M62 corridor, between the Mersey and Humber estuaries, in a band across northern England is in effect one long city, with a population greater than London. The West Midlands conurbation of Birmingham, Coventry, Wolverhampton, etc. is not far behind on that score. Yet these areas have been starved of infrastructure development for a generation. All the major developments have benefitted London and its hinterland. Manchester airport is near the junction between the M6 and the M62 and is three lanes each way. The traffic queues at rush hour around there are quite horrific. A relief road was built to relieve the traffic around the north of Birmingham on the M6, but this was a toll road that is so expensive that in is seriously underused. If you attempted to charge for the M25 the outcry would be enormous, but outside of London we have to put up with it. The mantra that everything must make a profit gives us the highest rail fares in Europe and some of the worst services.

When Margaret Thatcher came to power she determined to break the power of the Trades Union, and did so by deflating during a recession. In effect, she destroyed what was left of Britain’s industrial heritage. But it didn’t matter because jobs would be created in banking and the service industries . At a time when Britain’s oil revenues were at their height much of the money went on paying dole to workers made redundant by her policies rather than modernising for a new world. She did, however succeed in destroying the power of the unions. The other result was to concentrate all the money into London, especially in the City of London and the Docklands developments. And that was alright as far as London was concerned, but a bit of a bummer for everyone else. Then came the Great Banking Crash and a few bankers and Insurance company people lost their jobs, mostly very low grade people. Their bosses caused the crisis yet remained oblivious to its effects. Bonuses were still paid out and salaries remained sky high. By now we had to support these areas of the economy, as there was little in the way of alternative ways of making a living in the world, what with other industries having been destroyed.

So money goes where money is. The South East of England is now crowded, the property is ridiculously expensive and it is difficult to afford anywhere to live, even with London rates of pay being higher than elsewhere in the country. Londoners have a way of expressing contempt for those who live outside the metropolis, saying they are uncouth and work-shy and always moaning. Perhaps if they realised that they have everything, the high paid jobs, the infrastructure development and all the money they might be a little more sympathetic. And it is not just in infrastructure. Subsidies for the arts in London are at 15 times (yes, fifteen times) per head greater than the average in the rest of the country. So, if a family from Leeds want to go to see a major show in London they will have to travel down, probably on a very expensive train, pay exorbitant prices for the show, stay in a poor but very expensive hotel. All in all probably costing near a thousand pounds for the treat.

Not far from where I live is Coalbrookdale. You may not have heard of this place. It is better known as Ironbridge. In 1780 Abraham Darby built a cast iron bridge over the river Severn in a gorge. It is a potent symbol of the start of the Industrial Revolution. Not far from there is Dudley which probably has an equal claim to being the birthplace of the Industrial revolution. There was a seam of coal there, good coking coal, twenty feet thick. Nearby were good supplies of iron ore and limestone. These were all the ingredients needed to produce iron in industrial quantities. But it still required investment to build the foundries and canals, and fund the exploration for coal and minerals. Whether it was Abraham Darby and his fellow Ironmasters or the Earl of Dudley putting up the cash, investment was still needed to spark these developments. All industrial developments that occurred globally since then came about because of these pioneers. They truly changed the entire world.

These days Ironbridge is a living museum, and there is another in Dudley. It may well be that Britain is the first post-industrial country. The canals are too small, the roads too narrow. If the rest of the country outside of London is to be re-invigorated it desperately needs some pump priming. I am not suggesting a return to mass iron smelting, but we do have considerable reserves of coal and could surely develop technology to burn it cleanly and efficiently. There are other more high-tech industries which could be developed if the infrastructure and the money were in place. After all we did invent the programmable electronic computer. We have a wonderful track record for inventing things but a woeful one for developing them commercially. A plan to develop a high speed rail link between London, the Midlands and Scotland (HS2) has become controversial, because of the expense, and has been described as a vanity project by some, mostly in London but also on the path of the track by NIMBYs. If I want to travel long haul I have to fly from London. There are plans to expand Heathrow every few years, the justification of which is that more people fly from London because a greater percentage of the people there fly. Duh! Talk about a circular argument! In effect, the rest of the country has to schlepp over to London in order to fly anywhere beyond the Mediterranean.

Meanwhile, Parliament sits in London and all the money goes to London. There was a joke, which is too near the truth to be really funny. If you want to know why the M40 from London to Oxford was built twenty years before the M11 to Cambridge it was because all the top civil servants in the Ministry of Transport went to Oxford, (and many of the MPs and ministers). Cambridge has more to do with invention than administration and suffers accordingly. And this is why London has piecrust and gravy and meat, and the rest of us are left with an empty dish.

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