Infrastructure is a competitive issue

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For months now the rising price of fuel has been a dominant issue for transport operators – particularly smaller operators who struggle to pass on the increases. But, the focus on fuel costs should not be allowed to eclipse completely some of the more strategic challenges that face the industry.

And a report by MPs last month did us all a service by highlighting the need for investment in ports and airports.

The report on Transport and the Economy by the House of Commons Transport Committee called for a white paper on transport strategy saying that the government needed to explain how its spending on transport would deliver economic growth and development.

The government needed a much stronger strategy for developing the UK’s major ports and airports, MPs said. “Improving connectivity through these key international gateways simply does not feature prominently enough in the government’s current approach to the economy.”

MPs were particularly critical of the lack of regional planning for transport. “The current government has swept away the regional tier of planning and many institutions that played a key role in the development of strategic priorities for transport spending in support of economic development. This has created a vacuum that has left regions without the institutions and arrangements they need to plan and prioritise sub-national transport schemes and other significant transport infrastructure.”

And the MPs highlighted the fact that arrangements to fill the void might not be in place until the end of this parliament. Committee chair Louise Ellman said: “This delay is likely to weaken decision making and widen the economic divisions between regions.”

They also warned that there was an urgent need to increase transport investment in the north of the country to boost the capacity for economic growth.

At the end of the day, infrastructure is a competitive issue. Poor infrastructure is no mere inconvenience – it pushes up logistics costs and damages competitiveness. It’s time for the government to get a grip.

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