IT WOULD be churlish not to welcome the Government’s planned investment in flood defences, particularly considering the way in which areas of this region have been left underwater far too frequently in recent years. The £80m earmarked for the Humber Estuary, for example, is sorely needed.
Questions have to be asked, however, as to what precise factors have determined these spending pledges, given the fact that nearly £16m is to be spent on the Somerset Levels, with the aim of protecting 7,000 properties, while far more populous but equally vulnerable areas are being largely ignored.
No one can fail to have sympathy with those farmers in Somerset whose fields were left inundated at the beginning of this year. But, considering that comparatively few people were affected – compared, say, with those in the towns of the Calder Valley who have been repeatedly hit by flooding in recent years – it is worth asking whether this is the most effective use of public money.
This question is all the more relevant considering that it is now acknowledged that the Somerset floodings were caused by errors in environmental policy, namely the decision to stop dredging, rather than by any fundamental change in natural conditions. And now that dredging has been resumed, provided it is done properly, the flooding threat should be largely alleviated.
It would be a pity if something as important as the National Infrastructure Plan were to be dictated by a Government need to respond to whichever problem resulted in the most damaging television pictures, rather than by a properly objective assessment of Britain’s most urgent needs.
Road to cynicism
Osborne’s promise to motorists
MINISTERS are no doubt correct to insist that the £15bn intiative to boost the nation’s road network will be welcomed by motorists as much-needed relief following years of pent-up frustration on routes such as the A1 in North Yorkshire and trans-Pennine links between Sheffield and Manchester.
But it is also true that motorists are not going to welcome these improvements until they actually happen and, given previous experience, that may not be for some time.
Considering that similarly ambitious plans have been cancelled on past occasions when public money was far more plentiful, what hope is there that these latest proposals will reach fruition during the next parliament, a time when, most experts agree, far deeper spending cuts will have to be made than any the coalition has attempted so far?
Indeed, public cynicism regarding this announcement will only be further increased by the revelation that two-thirds of the road schemes are in Conservative and Liberal Democrat constituencies.
The suspicion inevitably arises that, as with Chancellor George Osborne’s pledge to boost health spending by £2bn-a-year, the road-building promise is primarily intended to win votes and the small matter of how it can actually be afforded will not be considered until after the General Election.
All things considered, the details so far revealed of tomorrow’s Autumn Statement suggest that, far from being a sombre analysis of the nation’s still parlous finances, it will instead be a thinly-disguised election manifesto, hardly the best way to stem public disillusion with party politics.
Brown’s record not a great one
WHY, when it has long been clear that Gordon Brown’s career in mainstream politics was over, has the former Prime Minister waited until six months before an election to announce his intention to leave Parliament?
The suspicion must be that, even with his huge majority, Mr Brown has no stomach for a fight with the resurgent Scottish Nationalists.
It would, after all, only be in character for a man who ensured that he became Labour leader without facing any challengers and who ducked out of an early General Election challenge once he became Prime Minister.
Mr Brown, of course, has been a major figure in politics and no one can deny the enormous influence he had on moulding New Labour and making his party electable once again.
His record in office, however, is eminently questionable, given that the economic growth over which he presided turned out to have been based on gross over-spending in the false belief that the economic cycle of boom-and-bust had been abolished.
History’s verdict is always open to challenge, but so far the indications are that Mr Brown’s time in office was not a propitious one for Britain.