Category Archives: Transport

The first big climate-friendly decision: Wales opts for “a high quality, multi-modal, integrated and low carbon transport system”

The Financial Times reports that plans to build an M4 bypass to reduce congestion on the M4 which links London with South Wales, were rejected yesterday by Wales’ first minister, Mark Drakeford.

He attached great weight to the “substantial adverse impact” on the environment, in particular the Gwent Levels’ Sites of Special Scientific Interest, their network of ancient waterways, wet grassland, reedbeds, saltmarsh and saline lagoons with endangered and rare species of wildlife, managed by Gwent Wildlife Trust and ‘an army of volunteers’.

Ian Rappel, chief executive of the Gwent Wildlife Trust, commended the decision to reject the UK’s most ecologically damaging motorway scheme.

The business community in Wales and the UK government had backed the project, although some economists had argued that increased road access to South Wales would have sucked investment out of the region to the more prosperous west of England. However, Mr Drakeford said the cost to the Welsh government and the project’s impact on other capital investments were not acceptable.

A point not mentioned in this article is that several studies (1994-2017) – including one accepted by the UK government – have found that the relief offered by such a bypass will be temporary, due to the ‘induced traffic’ phenomenon. When a new road is built it generates extra traffic because of the presence of the new road, many new trips are made and longer distances are travelled.

Wales passed the 2015 Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act, which was hailed by the UN as a model piece of legislation for sustainable development.

The Welsh government, which also declared a “climate emergency” in April, is to set up a commission with a mandate to develop “a high quality, multi-modal, integrated and low carbon transport system” and recommend alternatives to the 23-km dual three-lane motorway bypass.

 

 

 

 

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Conservative, Labour & Greens to serve on EJC

On Tuesday, the Institute for Public Policy Research launches its Environmental Justice Commission (EJC) and people are coming together across Conservative, Labour and Green parties to serve on it – leading figures from business, academia, civil society, trade unions, youth and climate activism.

Ed Miliband, Labour MP for Doncaster North and a former leader of the Labour party; Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion and Laura Sandys, a former Conservative MP for South Thanet, have written about this and many readers’ comments are well worth reading. Important points made are summarised below

Too often the issue of climate change seems marginal to the public’s concerns, when it is in fact central.

The task is to ally the issue of climate change with the economic and social transformation that our country needs.

This will be done by committing to a Green New Deal (GND), with an unprecedented mobilisation and deployment of resources to tackle the accelerating climate crisis and transform our economy and society for all. Read more on the Green New Deal website.

Its aims are to:

  • mobilise a carbon army of workers to retrofit and insulate homes, cutting bills, reducing emissions and making people’s lives better
  • move to sustainable forms of transport and zero-carbon vehicles as quickly as possible, saving thousands of lives from air pollution
  • end the opposition to onshore wind power and position ourselves as a global centre of excellence for renewable manufacturing
  • protect and restore threatened habitats and
  • secure major transitions in agriculture and diets that are essential if we are to meet our obligations.

See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DpM9gRDr26I

People have been asking how we can revive communities that have been left out of prosperity. They ask whether they and their children will be able to get work and also what the quality of that work will be and what skills will be needed. ECJ believes GND has the potential to do this.

The areas of policy mentioned above answer the immediate economic concerns of people for jobs and hope. Green jobs must be secure and decently paid, with a central role for trade unions in a just transition for all workers and communities affected.

The commission will aim to help the UK to take a lead, believing that there is economic and societal advantage in doing so. An increasing number of people, young and old, see that the way we run our economy is damaging our climate, our environment and our society, but that, crucially, it is within our power to change it for the better. And change it we must.

 

 

 

 

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Jeremy Corbyn: brutal Communist, European socialist or mainstream Scandinavian social democrat?

Corbyn smears escalate

Yesterday came a warning: “With a general election possibly afoot, we must all be alert to the orchestrated dirty tricks and the ferocity of the propaganda assault that will inevitably be launched against Jeremy Corbyn and Labour by the terrified establishment”. It was issued by Richard House, after replying to ‘absurd views’ in the Independent alleging that Jeremy Corbyn would usher in ‘a communist government’ of a brutal nature.

Articles in the Murdoch Times today bore these headlines

  • MPs launch angry revolt over leaders’ Brexit talks: Breakthrough hopes fade after May meets Corbyn
  • Brexit talks: Dark clouds gather as Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn work out what to do next
  • The PM, as we must still call her, was numb — perhaps past caring
  • Two-party cartel would regret an election now: The electorate is more volatile than ever and many will be looking for a home beyond the Conservatives and Labour. 

Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity with Europe’s socialist leaders was highlighted some time ago with a standing ovation noted in the Financial Times:

“UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was given a rapturous reception by his Socialist allies in Brussels on Thursday, as he warned that leaving the EU without a Brexit deal would be “catastrophic” for the UK economy. Mr Corbyn was met with a standing ovation by Europe’s centre-left parties as he addressed delegates at the Europe Together conference, just hours before prime minister Theresa May was scheduled to meet her EU counterparts at a European leaders’ summit”. We omit the description of Ms May’s very cool reception. 

Corbyn’s negotiating skills are appreciated by senior EU figures, including Michel Barnier.

 

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (R) and British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn walk prior to a meeting on July 13, 2017 in Brussels.  

Another perspective: Jeremy Corbyn is a mainstream [Scandinavian] social democrat 

That is the view of Jonas Fossli Gjersø, a Scandinavian who has spent more than a decade living in Britain (full text here), who opens:

“From his style to his policies Mr Corbyn would, in Norway, be an unremarkably mainstream, run-of-the-mill social-democrat. His policy-platform places him squarely in the Norwegian Labour Party from which the last leader is such a widely respected establishment figure that upon resignation he became the current Secretary-General of NATO.

“Yet, here in the United Kingdom a politician who makes similar policy-proposals, indeed those that form the very bedrock of the Nordic-model, is brandished as an extremist of the hard-left and a danger to society”.

British media’s portrayal of Corbyn, and by extent his policies are somewhat exaggerated and verging on the realm of character assassination rather than objective analysis and journalism.

Mr Corbyn’s policy-platform, particularly in regard to his domestic policies are largely identical with the Norwegian Labour Party manifesto. They enjoy near universal support among the Norwegian electorate and, in fact, they are so mainstream that not even the most right-wing of Norwegian political parties would challenge them. They include:

  • railway nationalisation,
  • partial or full state ownership of key companies or sectors,
  • universal healthcare provisions,
  • state-funded house-building,
  • no tuition fee education,
  • education grants and loans

Jonas (right) adds that such policies have been integral to the social-democratic post-war consensus in all the Nordic countries, which. enjoy some of the world’s highest living standards and presumably should be a model to be emulated rather than avoided, and continues:

The whole controversy surrounding Mr Corbyn probably betrays more about Britain’s class divisions and how far the UK’s political spectrum has shifted to the right since the early-1980s, than it does of the practicality of his policy-proposals.

Reflecting this is British media whose ownership is highly concentrated: 70% of national newspapers are owned by just three companies and a third are owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News UK . . . the British media has focused its reporting on the personal characteristics of Mr Corbyn, usually in rather unflattering terms, and shown scant or shallow regard to his policy-agenda.

He notes that a direct comparison of Britain with other similar European states would reveal both the dire condition of British living-standards for populations, particularly outside London and how conventionally social-democratic are Mr Corbyn’s policies.

Jonas Fossli Gjersø ends: “You might agree or disagree with his political position, but it is still far too early to discount Mr Corbyn’s potential success at the next general election – particularly if he manages to mobilise support from the circa 40% of the electorate who regularly fail to cast their ballot in elections…

“(J)ust as few recognised the socio-economic and ideological structural changes which converged to underpin Margaret Thatcher’s meteoric rise in the early-1980s, we cannot exclude the possibility that we are witnessing the social-democratic mirror image of that process today, with a prevailing wind from the left rather than the right”.

 

 

 

 

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Road congestion report leads to calls for better public road, rail & waterway transport

Inrix has analysed traffic density in more than 200 cities in 38 countries. In London drivers spent 227 hours a year in traffic and the cost was £4.9 billion, or £1,680 per driver due to lost productivity. Across Britain, the cost was £7.9 billion. After London the worst UK city was Birmingham, then Glasgow, Manchester, Bristol, Edinburgh, Sheffield, Leicester, Leeds and Liverpool. London has more traffic jams than any other city in western Europe and is the seventh most congested in the world. Read more on Inrix’ ‘scorecard’.

Graeme Paton, Transport Correspondent of the Times, reports on these research findings published today which show that drivers were stuck in traffic for 178 hours on average last year.

Trevor Reed, transport analyst at Inrix, said that if congestion is not addressed, it will continue to have serious consequences for national and local economies, businesses and citizens in the years to come.

‘Driven by necessity’ – poor public transport

RAC research has shown that drivers are becoming more reliant on their cars because of poor standards of public transport. Rod Dennis, spokesman for the RAC, said, “This is a serious concern when you consider the limited physical space in our cities and the growing pressures to move large numbers of people around to get to their places of work and leisure.

“Those cities that are best placed to grow will be those that are developing public transport systems that suit the needs of their citizens.”

To this end, a more reliable railway system, could attract drivers and large freight companies to use rail and more use should be made of the country’s waterway network. 22 British towns or cities already have water taxis, buses or ferries.

 

London leads the way, carrying passengers and freight by water


London’s river bus operator, MBNA Thames Clippers, alone carried more than 4 million passengers in 2018 and the city also leads the way in carrying bulky materials on its waterways instead of its roads.

CBOA graphic

Most readers will have noted the numbers of lorries amidst the traffic jams and experienced delays due to tailbacks of many miles due to slow-moving abnormal and sometimes hazardous loads.

Full use should be made of routes which can take such freight by water. Above: a transformer carried by Robert Wynn and Sons.

A forthcoming report (Gosling 2019) notes, in its Freight Carbon Review, “The Department for Transport explained in 2017 that waterways are ‘attractive for the environmental benefits they provide, and the reliable congestion-free freight access they offer over alternate modes’.”

Road users and all concerned about air-pollution will welcome action to transfer more freight from roads to inland waterways, a declared UK government objective.

 

 

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Rail passengers need – above all – reliable train services

. . . which are not delayed, cancelled or prematurely terminated

Rail union leaders, politicians and passengers are demonstrating today outside stations including London King’s Cross, Cardiff, Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol, Leeds, Norwich and Birmingham as rail fares for the country’s unreliable rail service increase. It is reported that rail fares will increase by an average of 3.1% today, despite punctuality falling to a 13-year low.

The Labour Party is calling for prices to be frozen on the worst-performing routes

Widely quoted Labour research findings are that fares have risen nearly three times faster than wages. Examples of changes to annual season ticket prices include:

:: Brighton → London increasing £148 to £4,844
:: Gloucester → Birmingham increasing £130 to £4,238
:: Manchester → Liverpool increasing £100 to £3,252

Analysis by the Press Association – source not given – has shown that one in seven trains was delayed by at least five minutes in 2018 – the worst performance since September 2005. As Wolmar wrote in August, “Barely a day goes by without another nightmare rail tale . . .” – many relating to scheduled services cancelled by Northern Rail because of disruptions to the ‘new’ timetable introduced in May.

New Year cheer: new carriages and wifi – but no reference to reliability & affordability,

On Radio 4’s Today programme, transport minister Chris Grayling cheerfully promised passengers new trains with more seats, improved accessibility, mobile phone charging points, wifi and air conditioning. The Rail Delivery Group is calling this the “biggest introduction of new trains in decades”. Between now and 2021, 7,000 new vehicles will be introduced by train companies.

Critics of nationalisation should be reminded that Britain’s railways are already state owned

  • Germany’s Deutsche Bahn owns Arriva, operates Chiltern, Cross Country, Wales & Borders, London Overground and Grand Central.
  • Italy’s Trenitalianow runs Essex Thameside
  • French state firm SNCF owns Keolis, which runs numerous franchises in joint ventures. As part of Govia, with Go-Ahead, it operates Thameslink, Great Northern, Southern, Southeastern and London Midland; with Amey it runs the Docklands Light Railway.
  • Dutch state rail owns Abellio, wruns ScotRail and Greater Anglia, and Merseyrail.
  • China Hong Kong state owns MTR, which holds the South West Trains franchise with First. MTR will also run Crossrail.
  • Eurostar is owned by France’s SCNF.
  • Heathrow Express is owned by Spain’s Ferrovial, with some investment from ADI Finance 2 Ltd – directors from Spain, Qatar, USA & UK.k

And even right-wing newspapers who had supported the privatisation of rail now regularly report the dramatic failures of the current system.

 

 

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Inaction over climate change is shameful: Martin Wolf

Martin Wolf, former senior World Bank economist who left after becoming disillusioned with its policies, reminds readers that a goal of the Paris agreement of 2015 was to limit the global average temperature rise to less than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. He comments:

“Achieving it means drastic reductions in emissions from now. This is very unlikely to happen. That is no longer because it is technically impossible. It is because it is politically painful.

He refers to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the implications of warming of just 1.5C, making plain the risks the world runs if this limit is ignored and concluding that life will survive, but not life as we know it, continuing:

“We are the shapers of the planet now. This ought to transform how we think. Unfortunately, it has not”.

Wolf believes that the theoretical and empirical arguments for man-made climate change are overwhelming, supporting this and other points made with graphs in his recent Financial Times article. The rise in average temperatures above the pre-industrial average is already about 1C. That shows how hard it will be to keep the final increase below 1.5C, or even 2C. Under the “nationally determined contributions”, he adds, we are in fact on a track towards warming of 3-4C by 2100.

if we are to have a high chance of keeping the ultimate temperature rise to below 1.5C:

  • net global CO2 emissions would need to fall to zero not long after 2040
  • and other sources of climate change — emissions of methane and nitrous oxide, for example — would also need to fall from 2030.

Emissions from industry would need to fall by 75-90 per cent by 2050, relative to 2010. This would need a combination of electrification, hydrogen and product substitution. These options are technically proven, but their deployment on a planetary scale is another matter. Emissions reductions by efficiency improvement will be inadequate.

(Ed) One reservation: many will disagree with Wolf’s assertion that generating energy from bio-based feedstocks is necessary and that agriculture will need to shift to production of energy crops on a huge scale.

He calls for planning changes in urban infrastructure and carbon capture and storage on a large scale, shifting the world on to a different investment and growth path right now and commenting, “This is more technically possible than we used to think. But it is politically highly challenging”.

The natural tendencies are either to do nothing, while insisting there is no problem, or to agree there is a problem, while merely pretending to act. It is not clear which form of obfuscation is worse.

Wolf points out that to preserve our planet requires co-operative effort on a planetary scale – a challenge human beings have historically only met in times of war. Climate change involves huge distributional issues between countries that caused the problem and those that did not, and, not least, between people today, who make the decisions, and people tomorrow, who suffer the results.

He warns that the chances of co-operative action seem near zero in today’s nationalistic world . . . Donald Trump has already repudiated the US pledge – other countries may fail, too:

“It is five minutes to midnight on climate change. We will have to alter our trajectory very quickly but appear to be set on running an irreversible bet on our ability to manage the consequences of a far bigger rise even than 2C, risking a world of runaway — and unmanageable — climate chaos.

“Our progeny will see this as a crime”.

 

 

 

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Contingency plan for a no-deal Brexit: proposals to ferry in critical supplies – food, medicines and possibly car parts

The FT reports that David Lidington, Mrs May’s de facto deputy, has briefed the cabinet that under a no-deal Brexit, the Dover-Calais route could be running at only 12-25% of its normal capacity for up to six months.

“Whatever we do at our end, the French could cause chaos if they carry out checks at their end,” said one government official. “Dover-Calais would be the obvious pinch point. The French would say they were only applying the rules.” This would force Britain to seek alternative ways of bringing in “critical supplies”.

Chris Grayling, transport secretary, has discussed with government colleagues the possibility of chartering ships, or space in ships, to bring supplies into other British ports, thus avoiding the Dover-Calais bottleneck.

Government officials say they do not expect to have to use legal powers to requisition ships, although with only five months to go until Brexit on March 29, there is little time to charter ships on the open market.

According to the FT’s George Parker and James Blitz this move was greeted with disbelief at a stormy meeting of Theresa May’s cabinet on Tuesday. The prime minister announced there would now be a weekly cabinet discussion on preparations for Brexit, whether under a deal or no-deal scenario. If Britain left the EU under World Trade Organization rules, the UK and EU would be in different customs jurisdictions and would be expected to carry out checks on trade across the English Channel.

Some 30% of all Britain’s food requirements are met from imports from other EU countries; Dover is a key port of entry, with over 2.5m heavy goods vehicles passing through the port each year.

Pauline Bastidon (sic), head of European policy at the Freight Transport Association, said: “We are open to all kinds of ideas about how to keep supplies flowing in a no deal Brexit. But it’s hard to see where the extra ships would quickly be found. Nor can I see how other UK ports could possibly handle the huge volumes currently going through the Dover strait.”

The Times adds: Dover handles more than 2.5 million lorries a year and has no capacity to hold trucks waiting for advanced customs clearance. Other UK ports (Ed: see map, right) do have that capacity and could be used to take some Dover traffic. And, reassuringly:

“Ministers say that disruption would also damage EU companies and that there would be political pressure from member states for the European Commission to mitigate the most damaging aspects of a breakdown in talks”.

 

 

 

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FT: City of London’s clean air plan is a model for others

The FT’s editorial board highlights actions being taken by the local authority to turn parts of the City of London’s ‘Square Mile’ into a zero-emissions zone by 2022. Details here.

As the FT’s Simon Kuper recently reported, air pollution is said to contribute to more than 9,000 premature deaths in London each year and its harmful nitrogen dioxide levels are nearly as bad as those in Beijing and New Delhi – and much worse than in other developed cities such as New York or Madrid.

Nitrogen dioxide, which inflames lungs and is linked to shorter life expectancy, has become a major problem. The capital missed binding EU limits on air quality that came into force in 2010, largely due to diesel vehicles — which, it later emerged, emitted higher levels of pollutants in the real world than in tests. Congestion, which has pushed average traffic speed down to 8mph, compounds the problem. Add in the City of London’s narrow streets and tall buildings, and two of the capital’s five hotspots for excessive nitrogen levels lie within it.

The mayor of London is making headway

The impact of the City’s plans will be even greater if they bolster commitments by Sadiq Khan, London’s mayor, to prioritise fighting air pollution throughout the capital and force the government to take action across the country.

  • From this year, all new single-decker buses will be zero emission.
  • New taxis must be hybrid or electric.
  • Next year, an ultra-low emission zone will come into force in central London, expanding outwards in 2021.

The borough of Westminster has proposed turning Oxford Street, the UK’s busiest shopping location, into a zero-emissions zone by 2022 and a parliamentary committee has called for a UK-wide ban on new petrol and diesel cars to be brought forward eight years, to 2032.   

The FT reports ‘lessons elsewhere’. Singapore has had an automated electronic road pricing scheme since 1988 and is moving to a satellite-based scheme in 2020 and advocates a move to cycling rates such as those In Amsterdam or Copenhagen.

Take a carrot-and-stick approach? The FT editorial board thinks that governments should both help and oblige people to change their behaviour

It cites Germany’s carrot-and-stick approach. A court ruling this week banned older diesel cars from driving in certain parts of Berlin – after the government had offered car owners generous bonuses for trading in older diesel cars.

The FT believes that The British government has not provided enough fiscal incentives to businesses and individuals who bought diesel vehicles in the mistaken belief that they were greener.

The Centre for London think-tank has proposed offering cash or mobility credits — which can be used to pay for public or shared transport — for scrapping diesel cars, as well as smarter distance-based car charges, and higher vehicle excise duties on the most polluting cars. The FT’s truism:

“Despite efforts to address it in London and other big cities, air pollution will remain dangerously high unless more people change behaviour. The City of London’s bold moves are worthwhile — but need to be happening not in a bubble, but right across the world’s major cities”.

 

 

 

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Secret State 24: HS2 overbudget revelations

Two ‘hidden’ reports see the light of day – how many more are buried?

In July, Andrew Gilligan reported that the HS2 high-speed rail project is “highly likely” to go as much as 60% over budget and cost “more than £80bn”. A Cabinet Office report by the government’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA), classified as “official-sensitive” and “not for publication”, described the scheme as “fundamentally flawed” and in a “precarious position”. A group of Conservative MPs, led by Jeremy Lefroy the MP for Stafford, mounted a new bid to cancel HS2.  

Is Britain’s own “deep state” once again covering up mistakes and denying access to critical documents (Carne Ross)?

Yesterday the FT reported that an official report by consultants PwC covering the second phase of HS2, from Birmingham to Leeds and Manchester, has been kept secret for the past two years. It alleges that Britain’s new £56bn high-speed rail line will cost taxpayers 25% more than similar schemes in other countries. The project was compared with more than 32 other high-speed rail projects, including the 621km Madrid-Barcelona line and the 301km Beijing-Nanjing line.

Since 2016 the management of HS2, which answers to the Department for Transport, has refused to publish the report, despite freedom of information requests from Lord Berkeley, a transport expert.

He said. “The fact that the government is embarrassed by their findings should not be a reason to withhold publication.” The findings included the following factors:

  • HS2 will have 25 stations — far more than equivalent schemes abroad — and they are more likely to be in city centres.
  • The 10-year hiatus between the UK’s first high-speed line and HS2 meant that the UK did not have the “base, industry and knowledge to deliver the project easily”.
  • The UK has a higher population density than some equivalent countries and so has had to pay higher land values, greater compensation and carry out more extensive environmental mitigation,

The benefits of HS2 are becoming harder to discern

The Treasury’s own Infrastructure and Projects Authority has given HS2 an “amber/red” rating for each of the past six years, meaning there is a “high risk” of it not delivering value for money.

A recent report by the European Court of Auditors (ECA), which monitors value for money, found that high-speed trains rarely run at the speed they are designed for, with most running at just 45% of top speed, with none running above 250km/h. The study of 10 European lines found that the decision to “build high-speed lines is often based on political considerations, and cost-benefit analyses are not generally used to support cost-efficient decision-making.”

The ECA found that only one of the 10 routes, from Paris to Lyon, have been profitable if construction costs were taken into account.

 

 

 

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Can Britain afford to offshore ship building?

Cammell Laird, working to full capacity in 2012

Though Cammell Laird’s Birkenhead shipyard won two contracts this month, worth a total of £619 million, to provide spares, repairs and do maintenance work for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary over10 years, news of plans to axe about 40% of the workforce (290 jobs) by the end of March 2019, was given to union representatives and workers today (11th October).

The Unite union is demanding that Cammell Laird sets out the business case for cuts which will see the loss of vital skills and ‘backdoor casualisation’ of the workforce. It fears that the proposed job losses will undermine the shipyard’s ability to fulfil new contracts.

Unite’s assistant general secretary for shipbuilding, Steve Turner, said: “The loss of jobs at Cammell Laird would see skills gone for a generation and be a further blow to the UK’s shipbuilding industry . . . it is clear that the government must and can do more to support UK shipbuilding jobs. This must include the government stepping in and supporting the retention of skills and jobs while shipyards like Cammell Laird wait for new contracts to come on stream”.

Instead of ‘offshoring’, the government should be handing contracts to build the Royal Navy’s new fleet solid support vessels and a £1.25bn contract for Type 31e frigates (maritime security-focused platforms) to UK shipyards, using British made steel as part of an industrial strategy that supports jobs and communities across our four nations.

https://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/fleet-solid-support-ships-an-important-part-of-the-naval-logistic-chain/

Yesterday it was reported that MPs had urged civil servants (defence officials) to pick a UK company for the £1billion contract for three Fleet Solid Support vessels for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Commons Defence Committee chairman and senior Tory MP Julian Lewis feared that foreign firms subsidised by their governments could undercut British rivals.

Penny-wise, pound foolish?

The MoD’s director general for finance told MPs the department’s biggest concern was “what will deliver the greatest value for money”- meaning the lowest bid – a narrow perspective. But as Labour MP John Spellar pointed out, the Treasury would benefit from tax revenue ploughed into public coffers if the work was carried out in the UK  –  “a significant return” – which would be multiplied by work given to British steel and component manufacturers.

Steve Turner said that a failure to have these ships made in Britain would be ‘a gross betrayal of UK ship workers and regional economies, putting at risk manufacturing skills vital to our country’.

 

 

 

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