If we need convincing that times are hard, look no further than, eponymously, The Times‘s list of les Grands Projets that are supposed to bring Britain out of its slough of economic despond. Or as David Wighton’s piece puts it: Quick fixes to get economy up to speed.
Wighton sets the scene:
Thirty-five road and rail projects got the go-ahead yesterday as George Osborne made infrastructure investment the centre of his economic package.
So, where’s Blasted Boris’s airport (some £50 billion)? After all, that has again been a main feature in The Times these recent days, even given the Wighton Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval as recently as … well implicitly, today, actually:
Maintaining a hub airport was identified as a key government commitment yesterday as part of 500 infrastructure projects worth more than £250 billion to be deliver over the next few years.
Only later, in the fourth paragraph,do we realise this is all pie-in-the-sky stuff, because:
About two-thirds of the £250 billion will come from the private sector and the Government is in talks with two sets of British pension funds that are expected to invest more than £20 billion over the next five to ten years.
£20 billion! Wowza! That’s a whole 8% of the £250 billion already at the “in talks” stage. Perhaps a third or a quarter of just one year’s income received by UK pensions funds —money that has to be invested somewhere. Convincing, what? And the UK pensions pot totals in excess of a trillion — so there’s a contribution, even if not a staggering one.
But George Osborne is sadly not thinking as BIG as Mr Wighton. He is proposing those 35 projects cost much as £5 billion for the next three years. Which is a fair bit of difference — a factor of fifty-fold reduction to be a trifle more precise.
And those 35 projects really do scrape the tun’s bum:
- a by-pass for Immingham (£6.3 million);
- up-grades on the Tyne and Wear Metro (£4 million);
- replacing a railway bridge in Derby (£6.9 million);
- a couple of park-and-ride schemes in York (£21.9 million, which seems a grotesque inflation);
- a bus station in Rochdale (£11.5 million).
But what really caught Malcolm’s eye was the item for “More Sheffield supertrams”. Malcolm has ridden the Sheffield trams, and (like those of Nottingham, but sadly not that intended to bring the Croydon trams into and across central London) they are very nice indeed. Still, can anyone imagine a previous Chancellor of the Exchequer — a Gladstone, a Disraeli, a Lloyd George, a Churchill, even (heaven help us!) a Philip Snowden — bragging about four extra trams for Sheffield?