Covid. Mass lockdowns v a Swedish option is a flawed choice. But if Ministers can’t make mass testing work, it’s the one we’ll have.

23 Sep

Perhaps Boris Johnson’s new plan will succeed.  Maybe factories and building sites will stay open, plus the retail and hospitality sectors, as well as universities and (crucially) schools.  Perhaps the move back from offices to schools will help keep Coronavirus on public transport under control.  If so, the firewall that Ministers want to build between work and home will stand.

In both, there is to be a new stress on compulsion.  At work, this will largely be limited to retail and hospitality, where the Government’s guidelines will become legal obligations, and the requirement to wear face masks will be extended.  At home, in family life and in leisure time, there is the rule of six, smaller weddings, restricted sports events, 10pm curfew for pubs.

All this will be enabled and enforced by Covid marshalls, higher fines and penalties, and not only the police but (the Prime Minister hinted) the army – and big lockdowns that cover groups of local authority areas.   As we say, maybe this plan will work, but we doubt it.  The most likely course ahead is a patchy schools’ service, which will drag parents away from work, plus a further clampdown on first hospitality and then retail.

Johnson suggested as much yesterday: “we reserve the right to deploy greater fire power, with significantly greater restrictions”, he told the Commons.  And although the plan’s outline is clear, its details are contested.  In that respect, we are where we were before: the Department of Health stresses tackling the virus, the Treasury supporting the economy.

Rishi Sunak appears to have staved off a more extensive crackdown on hospitality – for the moment, anyway – but the Government’s internal haggling and bargaining points to an uncomfortable truth.  The clampdown seems too extensive to satisfy a growing lobby within the Conservative Parliamentary Party, but not extensive enough to satisfy a significant chunk of the Government’s scientific advisers.

So there is a danger that it will fall between two stools, and be revised soon anyway.  In weighing where we are, it would be easy to vanish down the rabbit hole of detail (asking why, for example, it is considered safe to drink in pubs and drink in restaurants before 10pm but not afterwards).  Instead, we should stand back from yesterday’s change of tack, and think about the big picture.

When Covid-19 first gathered pace, we were told that a lockdown was necessary to save the NHS.  That is a clear goal – and an understandable one, since the public would not have tolerated TV pictures of overwhelmed hospitals, with ambulances incapable of discharging patients and others unable to get treatment at all, so dying at home without any palliative care.

After the original lockdown was eased, the emphasis shifted from “save the NHS” to “control the virus”.  The Prime Minister said yesterday that we should “safeguard the NHS”, but it wasn’t clear if the Government believes the rising caseload is a serious threat to it.  It appears that Ministers and their advisers are aiming, rather, to suppress the virus altogether.

That raises obvious questions about trade-offs – between driving down the virus and other healthcare objectives, and between lives and livelihoods: that’s to say, the wider workings of the economy which produces the growth, jobs and wealth without which the NHS would be unable to function in the first place.  We asked in May for the Government to publish a worst-case scenario for the service, and if it there is one we haven’t seen it.

Nor is it clear what those healthcare gains and losses have been so far.  Obviously, trying to calculate them is like trying to take a still photo of a moving person, but the effort must surely be made.  In its absence, opinion among Ministers and backbenchers is dividing, with a growing number – we can’t be sure of what it is – favouring a stress on voluntarism rather than compulsion: the Sweden option.

We believe that a choice between Sweden and lockdowns is a false one, for a simple reason.  Why would we model our response on the country with the eleventh highest number of deaths per head (Sweden) – only three places behind the UK – rather than one with the forty-fourth (Germany)?  We concede at once that these international comparisons are fraught with problems.

But that’s an issue for those who favour a Swedish-syle approach as much as those who support a German one.  In any event, as a country with the second largest economy in Europe, we are more easily considered alongside the country with the first – another, furthermore, with a relatively large population.  The fundamental difference between Sweden and Germany is the stress on testing.

The Government has handled some aspects of Covid-19 well (building the Nightingales) and some badly (failing to protect care homes).  Johnson will be consoled this morning by the fact that, if the initial polls are right, elite opinion on the Right may lean towards Sweden but the voters still support lockdown – though a growing and articulate minority do not, and exaggerated public fear of the extent of the virus brings problems in its wake,

Undoubtedly, however, Government communications have been more than a bit of a shambles – ever since, significantly, Ministers moved off the message of protecting the NHS.  In July, the Prime Minister was hoping for “a more significant return to normality from November…possibly in time for Christmas”.   Instead, we have a significant move from normality in September, which is set to last for six months.

We appreciate that all governments have made mistakes in handling the developing unknown of the virus, here and abroad.  But, frankly, too much hope has been invested in vaccines; too little stress has been placed on living with the virus; too much has been allowed to “the science” (with the latest dubious stress from the chief scientists on worst-case scenarios)  – and too much of the debate has swung between two unworkable extremes.

Big lockdowns of whole cities or metropolitan areas, which could well end up as a national one in effect, are not a solution, since they bring with them harmful outcomes and have an unclear objective.  Mass voluntarism might well be less damaging, but Sweden’s experience suggests it would bring higher death numbers with it – along with voter resistance, openings for Keir Starmer, and the canard that “the Tories don’t care about saving lives”.

Instead, Johnson needs to set clear testing targets, stick to them build on progress made, and stay on piste.  We are well aware of the problems. The UK doen’t have the laboratory capacity it needs, so scaling it up takes time.  Testing finds more cases, thus feeding public alarm. There are false positives (and negatives).  Some people will need tests won’t take them.  Others who take them don’t need them – or at any rate, need them less than, say, teachers.

Care homes have consumed a lot of the tests; the return of schools has had an impact; an earlier-than-expected upswing in cases has caught the authorities out.  Furthermore, we still await a workable NHS app, our health system is over-centralised, and effective tracing remains a work in progress.  But more tests, quick tracing, quarantine and mini-shutdowns if necessary (not the closure of whole cities and metropolitan areas) are the best-in-class solution.

It is one that would minimise the debate about trade-offs, since the economy would be able to return to nearer normal.  If it isn’t delivered, watch for pressure on the Chancellor for more furlough, more subsidies, more loans, and a shorter spending review – with higher taxes and lower spending coming later down the line.  And for the options to harden to two flawed extremes.

Shaun Bailey: We can’t let London grind to a halt

23 Sep

Shaun Bailey is a member of the London Assembly and the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London.

Remember the days when London’s transport network led the world? It wasn’t that long ago. Look back to before Sadiq Khan and you see what we used to be capable of. When Boris Johnson was the Mayor of London, we signed off Crossrail 1. We started planning Crossrail 2. We got Boris bikes. We rolled the Overground out to more areas than ever. And we had a congestion charge that raised money without being extreme.

How times have changed. Now we’ve got a Mayor who spent four years managing Transport for London so inefficiently that he had to be bailed out by the government. He let TfL debt rise to a historic £13 billion. He hiked the congestion charge to £15 and extended it to seven days a week. He came into office with Crossrail on time and on budget, but managed to delay it and increase its cost. And he has allowed countless bridges to close, turning journeys across the river into Homeric odysseys, as our former Mayor might have said. These days the only way our transport system leads the world is in headlines about how London’s bridges are falling down.

It’s incredibly disappointing. Forget about the rest of the world — our transport system is what makes this city possible. It’s how businesses get around but it’s also how we see family and friends. That’s why I believe Londoners have the right to an efficient transport system. And I believe it’s the Mayor’s responsibility to deliver it. So I can’t understand why Sadiq Khan has let our transport network fall into its current state.

I don’t buy the narrative that failure is inevitable. After all, it’s not like we’ve seen these transport failures in other parts of the country. Far from it. Conservative mayors like Andy Street and Ben Houchen are setting a great example for London, something our Mayor should take note of.

Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, is pioneering a Metro system and opening new stations in Coventry and Wolverhampton. Ben Houchen, the Mayor of the Tees Valley, saved the local airport from closure and helped bring new investment into the region. They are doing exactly what Conservative mayors always do: working with business and government to deliver improvements in people’s lives.

Recently, Greg Hands and I had to take some of Khan’s job description into our own hands. When Hammersmith Bridge was closed yet again, Khan refused to take responsibility yet again. But the consequences were too great for us to ignore. Residents faced three-hour bus rides just to get across the river. Emergency services struggled to respond to call-outs. Businesses were reporting that trade was down between 30 per cent and 40 per cent.

So together, Greg and I asked the government to intervene and take over Hammersmith Bridge. And we are hugely grateful that the government listened. Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, bailed out Sadiq Khan by taking over the bridge and funding the repairs.

But even though Grant Shapps did the right thing, it should never have come to this. As the Mayor of London, I’ll make it my priority to get TfL’s finances back in order. I’ll cut waste, end inflated executive pay, and provide the leadership TfL needs. That way, Londoners will have a transport network fit for a global city — and we can start to lead the world once again.

John Pennington: Labour is punishing the motorists in Bradford

18 Sep

Cllr John Pennington is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Bradford Council

My Labour-led local authority has announced that it is to use the services of a telephone parking payment provider called RingGo whilst drumming up even more ways to persecute the motorist.

In what is becoming tradition, new schemes are too often ill-conceived and certainly never fully thought through. I will address parking charges and their effect upon decimated town centres later. In the meantime, residents will need a permit to park outside their homes – but so too, visitors who must be pre-booked for a specific date and time along with vehicle registration number and owner’s name. The last two categories can be chosen from an already requested and submitted list ‘allowing’ residents to select one from up to a maximum of 10 visitor names. There is even a suggestion that a tradesperson’s permit will be introduced costing £15 per day; sounds like some very expensive home improvements to me.

Residents are informed all this will be very simple to follow and can be done paperless on line via a computer or smartphone. For those without, it is suggested they visit their local library (if still there and open). There is little thought given to the more elderly who may live alone and not be IT savvy.

Of more concern is the elephant in the room, the Labour dictatorship intend to use an outsource partner called “Imperial” who specialise in civil enforcement solutions. Other providers are available, one widely used being Permit-Smarti. Requesting people to supply personally identifiable information and register movements of visitors is one thing but to then pass it on to a third party surely contravenes the Human Rights Act and the more recently introduced GDPR which has been the cause of some many problems to businesses.

We are again told not to worry and that everything will be straightforward but such an invasive intrusion into our public and personal privacy must not be tolerated. The information will only be stored for 12 years and one of the first questions ‘imperial’ enforcement ask is for the grant to use cookies.

Thank you if you have stayed so long, I now turn to how we can help our Town Centres.

Councils are now experiencing what businesses have for far too long – a shortage of customers, reality has finally hit. My Council compounded by coronavirus will lose up to £1 million in parking fees and charges, the estimated income across the country in fees alone would have been £885 million before the exodus hit. Councils now have to make business decisions, foreign though it may be to them. Do they reapply, even increase, parking charges to protect their own car cash cow income but by doing so risk hurting, or worse, still lose businesses that bring in rates, jobs, and prosperity? No more heads in the sand policies.

Many councils seem hellbent on exterminating the motorist through increased charges and extending hours in to the evenings and Sundays and the removal of 30 minute free periods. Whilst I salute the request to go green and we rightly look at ways to promote cycling and walking we must also ensure adequate space for motor vehicles. Huge sums are being spent on cycle lanes and extended pavements which are empty. Social distancing measures which could be in place for a long period have significantly reduced public transport capacity. Centres hollowed out even further by businesses now looking to reduce office space after successfully moving to home working will mean even more empty property. Ground floor offices and shop units should become garages with residential above.

Bold leadership is needed if politicians are to get the respect of the electorate; they are there to do what is right. 64 per cent of shopping trips are done by car according to a National Travel Survey; one of the reasons out of town shopping centres have free parking. My Conservative Group proposal is to remove parking charges both on and off street, but limited to two hours. We would also remove the costly supervision overhead by introducing a London style vehicle tow-away where anyone who overstays or parks without thought for other road users will have to reclaim their vehicle from a distant compound, pay a hefty fee (£250), and produce valid driver and vehicle documents.

Keith Prince: Londoners will not return to their previous travel arrangements. Whatever the Mayor might want.

17 Sep

Keith Prince is the London Assembly Member for Havering and Redbridge and former Leader of Redbridge Council.

It may come as no surprise to ConservativeHome readers that Sadiq Khan has made a mess of London’s transport over the last six months. Indeed, given that he had made a mess of London’s transport over the last four years, it would be surprising if he had not. However, the current Mayor’s mistakes over lockdown have been particularly damaging, both because of the immediate consequences and because of the extent to which they have set London on the wrong path as we move forward. In my new report, Derailed: Getting London’s Transport Back on Track, I assess the decisions the Mayor has made since March – and make plenty of recommendations for how the Mayor and the Government ought to proceed.

To help inform the report, the London Assembly Conservatives commissioned YouGov to poll Londoners on how their use of, and attitude towards, different transport modes has changed during the Covid-19 pandemic and whether they expect those changes to stick once social distancing ends. We can expect to see Londoners walking a lot more, with just over half (51 per cent) of those polled walking more during lockdown and 56 per cent expecting that to be permanent.

YouGov also found that just under a quarter of Londoners do not expect to use public transport after lockdown and social distancing are over. If true, it’s clear that will have a huge impact on London, how Londoners get around London, and Transport for London’s finances.

Khan seems convinced that there is going to be a cycling revolution, but our polling did not support that theory. In fact, it was notable that 21 per cent of respondents gave up cycling completely during lockdown, in comparison to just 13 per cent who cycled more. Overall, we can expect to see more Londoners cycling in the future, but we found little evidence of a step change.

Perhaps many people who might have cycled more, instead plan to work from home. There is now ample evidence that lockdown has put rocket boosters under the trend for many more people to work from home, increasingly often. Many businesses that have resisted home working were left with no choice and have found that, within the right structure, it can work well for them and for their employees. In the longer term, the decision over where people work will ultimately be one for employers and employees.

In the report, I argue that “instead of trying to somehow return London to the way it was before lockdown – an effort that would inevitably prove impossible – the Mayor and TfL should focus on the core mission of keeping London moving. This means making it as easy, as quick, and as safe as possible, for Londoners and those visiting London to travel wherever they need to go.”

The Mayor’s duty is not to try and corral people into travelling in the way he wants. Instead, he should be finding ways to offer transport options that facilitate people’s choices, rather than seeking to stop them. For example, the Mayor should introduce a Carnet Travelcard. This would enable those who would previously have bought a monthly or annual season ticket, but now work from home for two or three days a week, to buy, perhaps, 50 Travelcards to be used over the course of six months. The daily and weekly Oyster Pay As You Go caps were introduced in response to two reports by Roger Evans, my predecessor as Assembly Member for Havering and Redbridge. They were a great step forward for both home and part-time workers and a Carnet Travelcard would go several steps further, by catering for the many people who would previously have bought monthly or annual season tickets.

The Mayor desperately needs to both cut the cost of TfL, and raise more money, but it’s vital that he does this by maximising revenue from TfL’s capital assets – such as building houses on TfL land – rather than desperately trying to squeeze as much money as possible from motorists. He should reverse his damaging expansion of the Congestion Charge and cancel plans to expand the Ultra-Low Emission Zone to the North and South Circulars in October next year.

TfL too often, particularly under Khan, has a “not invented here” mindset. There is a strong suspicion of ideas from outside the organisation and far too much of a view that if TfL’s not in control of a transport scheme, then it doesn’t really count. In fact, there are multiple ways for the Mayor and TfL to act as transport facilitators, helping to ensure those travelling in London have useful options without actually providing those options itself. Instead of closing off roads to black cabs, the Mayor should accept the principle that black cabs should be able to go anywhere that buses go. He should welcome e-bikes and e-scooters onto London’s roads, allowing the private sector to provide transport options at little or no cost to the taxpayer.

There is far more that a decent Mayor could do to increase car clubs in London. Every additional car club car on the road helps take 13.4 privately-owned cars off it – not by force or coercion or by pricing people off the road, but by making it easier for people who’d be happy not to own a car but need to have the option to drive sometimes to make that choice. Working with the grain of the choices people want to make would be far more effective – and would not penalise those who need to drive more often. If only we had a Mayor who recognised that.

Keith Prince: Londoners will not return to their previous travel arrangements. Whatever the Mayor might want.

17 Sep

Keith Prince is the London Assembly Member for Havering and Redbridge and former Leader of Redbridge Council.

It may come as no surprise to ConservativeHome readers that Sadiq Khan has made a mess of London’s transport over the last six months. Indeed, given that he had made a mess of London’s transport over the last four years, it would be surprising if he had not. However, the current Mayor’s mistakes over lockdown have been particularly damaging, both because of the immediate consequences and because of the extent to which they have set London on the wrong path as we move forward. In my new report, Derailed: Getting London’s Transport Back on Track, I assess the decisions the Mayor has made since March – and make plenty of recommendations for how the Mayor and the Government ought to proceed.

To help inform the report, the London Assembly Conservatives commissioned YouGov to poll Londoners on how their use of, and attitude towards, different transport modes has changed during the Covid-19 pandemic and whether they expect those changes to stick once social distancing ends. We can expect to see Londoners walking a lot more, with just over half (51 per cent) of those polled walking more during lockdown and 56 per cent expecting that to be permanent.

YouGov also found that just under a quarter of Londoners do not expect to use public transport after lockdown and social distancing are over. If true, it’s clear that will have a huge impact on London, how Londoners get around London, and Transport for London’s finances.

Khan seems convinced that there is going to be a cycling revolution, but our polling did not support that theory. In fact, it was notable that 21 per cent of respondents gave up cycling completely during lockdown, in comparison to just 13 per cent who cycled more. Overall, we can expect to see more Londoners cycling in the future, but we found little evidence of a step change.

Perhaps many people who might have cycled more, instead plan to work from home. There is now ample evidence that lockdown has put rocket boosters under the trend for many more people to work from home, increasingly often. Many businesses that have resisted home working were left with no choice and have found that, within the right structure, it can work well for them and for their employees. In the longer term, the decision over where people work will ultimately be one for employers and employees.

In the report, I argue that “instead of trying to somehow return London to the way it was before lockdown – an effort that would inevitably prove impossible – the Mayor and TfL should focus on the core mission of keeping London moving. This means making it as easy, as quick, and as safe as possible, for Londoners and those visiting London to travel wherever they need to go.”

The Mayor’s duty is not to try and corral people into travelling in the way he wants. Instead, he should be finding ways to offer transport options that facilitate people’s choices, rather than seeking to stop them. For example, the Mayor should introduce a Carnet Travelcard. This would enable those who would previously have bought a monthly or annual season ticket, but now work from home for two or three days a week, to buy, perhaps, 50 Travelcards to be used over the course of six months. The daily and weekly Oyster Pay As You Go caps were introduced in response to two reports by Roger Evans, my predecessor as Assembly Member for Havering and Redbridge. They were a great step forward for both home and part-time workers and a Carnet Travelcard would go several steps further, by catering for the many people who would previously have bought monthly or annual season tickets.

The Mayor desperately needs to both cut the cost of TfL, and raise more money, but it’s vital that he does this by maximising revenue from TfL’s capital assets – such as building houses on TfL land – rather than desperately trying to squeeze as much money as possible from motorists. He should reverse his damaging expansion of the Congestion Charge and cancel plans to expand the Ultra-Low Emission Zone to the North and South Circulars in October next year.

TfL too often, particularly under Khan, has a “not invented here” mindset. There is a strong suspicion of ideas from outside the organisation and far too much of a view that if TfL’s not in control of a transport scheme, then it doesn’t really count. In fact, there are multiple ways for the Mayor and TfL to act as transport facilitators, helping to ensure those travelling in London have useful options without actually providing those options itself. Instead of closing off roads to black cabs, the Mayor should accept the principle that black cabs should be able to go anywhere that buses go. He should welcome e-bikes and e-scooters onto London’s roads, allowing the private sector to provide transport options at little or no cost to the taxpayer.

There is far more that a decent Mayor could do to increase car clubs in London. Every additional car club car on the road helps take 13.4 privately-owned cars off it – not by force or coercion or by pricing people off the road, but by making it easier for people who’d be happy not to own a car but need to have the option to drive sometimes to make that choice. Working with the grain of the choices people want to make would be far more effective – and would not penalise those who need to drive more often. If only we had a Mayor who recognised that.

Keith Prince: Londoners will not return to their previous travel arrangements. Whatever the Mayor might want.

17 Sep

Keith Prince is the London Assembly Member for Havering and Redbridge and former Leader of Redbridge Council.

It may come as no surprise to ConservativeHome readers that Sadiq Khan has made a mess of London’s transport over the last six months. Indeed, given that he had made a mess of London’s transport over the last four years, it would be surprising if he had not. However, the current Mayor’s mistakes over lockdown have been particularly damaging, both because of the immediate consequences and because of the extent to which they have set London on the wrong path as we move forward. In my new report, Derailed: Getting London’s Transport Back on Track, I assess the decisions the Mayor has made since March – and make plenty of recommendations for how the Mayor and the Government ought to proceed.

To help inform the report, the London Assembly Conservatives commissioned YouGov to poll Londoners on how their use of, and attitude towards, different transport modes has changed during the Covid-19 pandemic and whether they expect those changes to stick once social distancing ends. We can expect to see Londoners walking a lot more, with just over half (51 per cent) of those polled walking more during lockdown and 56 per cent expecting that to be permanent.

YouGov also found that just under a quarter of Londoners do not expect to use public transport after lockdown and social distancing are over. If true, it’s clear that will have a huge impact on London, how Londoners get around London, and Transport for London’s finances.

Khan seems convinced that there is going to be a cycling revolution, but our polling did not support that theory. In fact, it was notable that 21 per cent of respondents gave up cycling completely during lockdown, in comparison to just 13 per cent who cycled more. Overall, we can expect to see more Londoners cycling in the future, but we found little evidence of a step change.

Perhaps many people who might have cycled more, instead plan to work from home. There is now ample evidence that lockdown has put rocket boosters under the trend for many more people to work from home, increasingly often. Many businesses that have resisted home working were left with no choice and have found that, within the right structure, it can work well for them and for their employees. In the longer term, the decision over where people work will ultimately be one for employers and employees.

In the report, I argue that “instead of trying to somehow return London to the way it was before lockdown – an effort that would inevitably prove impossible – the Mayor and TfL should focus on the core mission of keeping London moving. This means making it as easy, as quick, and as safe as possible, for Londoners and those visiting London to travel wherever they need to go.”

The Mayor’s duty is not to try and corral people into travelling in the way he wants. Instead, he should be finding ways to offer transport options that facilitate people’s choices, rather than seeking to stop them. For example, the Mayor should introduce a Carnet Travelcard. This would enable those who would previously have bought a monthly or annual season ticket, but now work from home for two or three days a week, to buy, perhaps, 50 Travelcards to be used over the course of six months. The daily and weekly Oyster Pay As You Go caps were introduced in response to two reports by Roger Evans, my predecessor as Assembly Member for Havering and Redbridge. They were a great step forward for both home and part-time workers and a Carnet Travelcard would go several steps further, by catering for the many people who would previously have bought monthly or annual season tickets.

The Mayor desperately needs to both cut the cost of TfL, and raise more money, but it’s vital that he does this by maximising revenue from TfL’s capital assets – such as building houses on TfL land – rather than desperately trying to squeeze as much money as possible from motorists. He should reverse his damaging expansion of the Congestion Charge and cancel plans to expand the Ultra-Low Emission Zone to the North and South Circulars in October next year.

TfL too often, particularly under Khan, has a “not invented here” mindset. There is a strong suspicion of ideas from outside the organisation and far too much of a view that if TfL’s not in control of a transport scheme, then it doesn’t really count. In fact, there are multiple ways for the Mayor and TfL to act as transport facilitators, helping to ensure those travelling in London have useful options without actually providing those options itself. Instead of closing off roads to black cabs, the Mayor should accept the principle that black cabs should be able to go anywhere that buses go. He should welcome e-bikes and e-scooters onto London’s roads, allowing the private sector to provide transport options at little or no cost to the taxpayer.

There is far more that a decent Mayor could do to increase car clubs in London. Every additional car club car on the road helps take 13.4 privately-owned cars off it – not by force or coercion or by pricing people off the road, but by making it easier for people who’d be happy not to own a car but need to have the option to drive sometimes to make that choice. Working with the grain of the choices people want to make would be far more effective – and would not penalise those who need to drive more often. If only we had a Mayor who recognised that.

Keith Prince: Londoners will not return to their previous travel arrangements. Whatever the Mayor might want.

17 Sep

Keith Prince is the London Assembly Member for Havering and Redbridge and former Leader of Redbridge Council.

It may come as no surprise to ConservativeHome readers that Sadiq Khan has made a mess of London’s transport over the last six months. Indeed, given that he had made a mess of London’s transport over the last four years, it would be surprising if he had not. However, the current Mayor’s mistakes over lockdown have been particularly damaging, both because of the immediate consequences and because of the extent to which they have set London on the wrong path as we move forward. In my new report, Derailed: Getting London’s Transport Back on Track, I assess the decisions the Mayor has made since March – and make plenty of recommendations for how the Mayor and the Government ought to proceed.

To help inform the report, the London Assembly Conservatives commissioned YouGov to poll Londoners on how their use of, and attitude towards, different transport modes has changed during the Covid-19 pandemic and whether they expect those changes to stick once social distancing ends. We can expect to see Londoners walking a lot more, with just over half (51 per cent) of those polled walking more during lockdown and 56 per cent expecting that to be permanent.

YouGov also found that just under a quarter of Londoners do not expect to use public transport after lockdown and social distancing are over. If true, it’s clear that will have a huge impact on London, how Londoners get around London, and Transport for London’s finances.

Khan seems convinced that there is going to be a cycling revolution, but our polling did not support that theory. In fact, it was notable that 21 per cent of respondents gave up cycling completely during lockdown, in comparison to just 13 per cent who cycled more. Overall, we can expect to see more Londoners cycling in the future, but we found little evidence of a step change.

Perhaps many people who might have cycled more, instead plan to work from home. There is now ample evidence that lockdown has put rocket boosters under the trend for many more people to work from home, increasingly often. Many businesses that have resisted home working were left with no choice and have found that, within the right structure, it can work well for them and for their employees. In the longer term, the decision over where people work will ultimately be one for employers and employees.

In the report, I argue that “instead of trying to somehow return London to the way it was before lockdown – an effort that would inevitably prove impossible – the Mayor and TfL should focus on the core mission of keeping London moving. This means making it as easy, as quick, and as safe as possible, for Londoners and those visiting London to travel wherever they need to go.”

The Mayor’s duty is not to try and corral people into travelling in the way he wants. Instead, he should be finding ways to offer transport options that facilitate people’s choices, rather than seeking to stop them. For example, the Mayor should introduce a Carnet Travelcard. This would enable those who would previously have bought a monthly or annual season ticket, but now work from home for two or three days a week, to buy, perhaps, 50 Travelcards to be used over the course of six months. The daily and weekly Oyster Pay As You Go caps were introduced in response to two reports by Roger Evans, my predecessor as Assembly Member for Havering and Redbridge. They were a great step forward for both home and part-time workers and a Carnet Travelcard would go several steps further, by catering for the many people who would previously have bought monthly or annual season tickets.

The Mayor desperately needs to both cut the cost of TfL, and raise more money, but it’s vital that he does this by maximising revenue from TfL’s capital assets – such as building houses on TfL land – rather than desperately trying to squeeze as much money as possible from motorists. He should reverse his damaging expansion of the Congestion Charge and cancel plans to expand the Ultra-Low Emission Zone to the North and South Circulars in October next year.

TfL too often, particularly under Khan, has a “not invented here” mindset. There is a strong suspicion of ideas from outside the organisation and far too much of a view that if TfL’s not in control of a transport scheme, then it doesn’t really count. In fact, there are multiple ways for the Mayor and TfL to act as transport facilitators, helping to ensure those travelling in London have useful options without actually providing those options itself. Instead of closing off roads to black cabs, the Mayor should accept the principle that black cabs should be able to go anywhere that buses go. He should welcome e-bikes and e-scooters onto London’s roads, allowing the private sector to provide transport options at little or no cost to the taxpayer.

There is far more that a decent Mayor could do to increase car clubs in London. Every additional car club car on the road helps take 13.4 privately-owned cars off it – not by force or coercion or by pricing people off the road, but by making it easier for people who’d be happy not to own a car but need to have the option to drive sometimes to make that choice. Working with the grain of the choices people want to make would be far more effective – and would not penalise those who need to drive more often. If only we had a Mayor who recognised that.

Keith Prince: Londoners will not return to their previous travel arrangements. Whatever the Mayor might want.

17 Sep

Keith Prince is the London Assembly Member for Havering and Redbridge and former Leader of Redbridge Council.

It may come as no surprise to ConservativeHome readers that Sadiq Khan has made a mess of London’s transport over the last six months. Indeed, given that he had made a mess of London’s transport over the last four years, it would be surprising if he had not. However, the current Mayor’s mistakes over lockdown have been particularly damaging, both because of the immediate consequences and because of the extent to which they have set London on the wrong path as we move forward. In my new report, Derailed: Getting London’s Transport Back on Track, I assess the decisions the Mayor has made since March – and make plenty of recommendations for how the Mayor and the Government ought to proceed.

To help inform the report, the London Assembly Conservatives commissioned YouGov to poll Londoners on how their use of, and attitude towards, different transport modes has changed during the Covid-19 pandemic and whether they expect those changes to stick once social distancing ends. We can expect to see Londoners walking a lot more, with just over half (51 per cent) of those polled walking more during lockdown and 56 per cent expecting that to be permanent.

YouGov also found that just under a quarter of Londoners do not expect to use public transport after lockdown and social distancing are over. If true, it’s clear that will have a huge impact on London, how Londoners get around London, and Transport for London’s finances.

Khan seems convinced that there is going to be a cycling revolution, but our polling did not support that theory. In fact, it was notable that 21 per cent of respondents gave up cycling completely during lockdown, in comparison to just 13 per cent who cycled more. Overall, we can expect to see more Londoners cycling in the future, but we found little evidence of a step change.

Perhaps many people who might have cycled more, instead plan to work from home. There is now ample evidence that lockdown has put rocket boosters under the trend for many more people to work from home, increasingly often. Many businesses that have resisted home working were left with no choice and have found that, within the right structure, it can work well for them and for their employees. In the longer term, the decision over where people work will ultimately be one for employers and employees.

In the report, I argue that “instead of trying to somehow return London to the way it was before lockdown – an effort that would inevitably prove impossible – the Mayor and TfL should focus on the core mission of keeping London moving. This means making it as easy, as quick, and as safe as possible, for Londoners and those visiting London to travel wherever they need to go.”

The Mayor’s duty is not to try and corral people into travelling in the way he wants. Instead, he should be finding ways to offer transport options that facilitate people’s choices, rather than seeking to stop them. For example, the Mayor should introduce a Carnet Travelcard. This would enable those who would previously have bought a monthly or annual season ticket, but now work from home for two or three days a week, to buy, perhaps, 50 Travelcards to be used over the course of six months. The daily and weekly Oyster Pay As You Go caps were introduced in response to two reports by Roger Evans, my predecessor as Assembly Member for Havering and Redbridge. They were a great step forward for both home and part-time workers and a Carnet Travelcard would go several steps further, by catering for the many people who would previously have bought monthly or annual season tickets.

The Mayor desperately needs to both cut the cost of TfL, and raise more money, but it’s vital that he does this by maximising revenue from TfL’s capital assets – such as building houses on TfL land – rather than desperately trying to squeeze as much money as possible from motorists. He should reverse his damaging expansion of the Congestion Charge and cancel plans to expand the Ultra-Low Emission Zone to the North and South Circulars in October next year.

TfL too often, particularly under Khan, has a “not invented here” mindset. There is a strong suspicion of ideas from outside the organisation and far too much of a view that if TfL’s not in control of a transport scheme, then it doesn’t really count. In fact, there are multiple ways for the Mayor and TfL to act as transport facilitators, helping to ensure those travelling in London have useful options without actually providing those options itself. Instead of closing off roads to black cabs, the Mayor should accept the principle that black cabs should be able to go anywhere that buses go. He should welcome e-bikes and e-scooters onto London’s roads, allowing the private sector to provide transport options at little or no cost to the taxpayer.

There is far more that a decent Mayor could do to increase car clubs in London. Every additional car club car on the road helps take 13.4 privately-owned cars off it – not by force or coercion or by pricing people off the road, but by making it easier for people who’d be happy not to own a car but need to have the option to drive sometimes to make that choice. Working with the grain of the choices people want to make would be far more effective – and would not penalise those who need to drive more often. If only we had a Mayor who recognised that.

Keith Prince: Londoners will not return to their previous travel arrangements. Whatever the Mayor might want.

17 Sep

Keith Prince is the London Assembly Member for Havering and Redbridge and former Leader of Redbridge Council.

It may come as no surprise to ConservativeHome readers that Sadiq Khan has made a mess of London’s transport over the last six months. Indeed, given that he had made a mess of London’s transport over the last four years, it would be surprising if he had not. However, the current Mayor’s mistakes over lockdown have been particularly damaging, both because of the immediate consequences and because of the extent to which they have set London on the wrong path as we move forward. In my new report, Derailed: Getting London’s Transport Back on Track, I assess the decisions the Mayor has made since March – and make plenty of recommendations for how the Mayor and the Government ought to proceed.

To help inform the report, the London Assembly Conservatives commissioned YouGov to poll Londoners on how their use of, and attitude towards, different transport modes has changed during the Covid-19 pandemic and whether they expect those changes to stick once social distancing ends. We can expect to see Londoners walking a lot more, with just over half (51 per cent) of those polled walking more during lockdown and 56 per cent expecting that to be permanent.

YouGov also found that just under a quarter of Londoners do not expect to use public transport after lockdown and social distancing are over. If true, it’s clear that will have a huge impact on London, how Londoners get around London, and Transport for London’s finances.

Khan seems convinced that there is going to be a cycling revolution, but our polling did not support that theory. In fact, it was notable that 21 per cent of respondents gave up cycling completely during lockdown, in comparison to just 13 per cent who cycled more. Overall, we can expect to see more Londoners cycling in the future, but we found little evidence of a step change.

Perhaps many people who might have cycled more, instead plan to work from home. There is now ample evidence that lockdown has put rocket boosters under the trend for many more people to work from home, increasingly often. Many businesses that have resisted home working were left with no choice and have found that, within the right structure, it can work well for them and for their employees. In the longer term, the decision over where people work will ultimately be one for employers and employees.

In the report, I argue that “instead of trying to somehow return London to the way it was before lockdown – an effort that would inevitably prove impossible – the Mayor and TfL should focus on the core mission of keeping London moving. This means making it as easy, as quick, and as safe as possible, for Londoners and those visiting London to travel wherever they need to go.”

The Mayor’s duty is not to try and corral people into travelling in the way he wants. Instead, he should be finding ways to offer transport options that facilitate people’s choices, rather than seeking to stop them. For example, the Mayor should introduce a Carnet Travelcard. This would enable those who would previously have bought a monthly or annual season ticket, but now work from home for two or three days a week, to buy, perhaps, 50 Travelcards to be used over the course of six months. The daily and weekly Oyster Pay As You Go caps were introduced in response to two reports by Roger Evans, my predecessor as Assembly Member for Havering and Redbridge. They were a great step forward for both home and part-time workers and a Carnet Travelcard would go several steps further, by catering for the many people who would previously have bought monthly or annual season tickets.

The Mayor desperately needs to both cut the cost of TfL, and raise more money, but it’s vital that he does this by maximising revenue from TfL’s capital assets – such as building houses on TfL land – rather than desperately trying to squeeze as much money as possible from motorists. He should reverse his damaging expansion of the Congestion Charge and cancel plans to expand the Ultra-Low Emission Zone to the North and South Circulars in October next year.

TfL too often, particularly under Khan, has a “not invented here” mindset. There is a strong suspicion of ideas from outside the organisation and far too much of a view that if TfL’s not in control of a transport scheme, then it doesn’t really count. In fact, there are multiple ways for the Mayor and TfL to act as transport facilitators, helping to ensure those travelling in London have useful options without actually providing those options itself. Instead of closing off roads to black cabs, the Mayor should accept the principle that black cabs should be able to go anywhere that buses go. He should welcome e-bikes and e-scooters onto London’s roads, allowing the private sector to provide transport options at little or no cost to the taxpayer.

There is far more that a decent Mayor could do to increase car clubs in London. Every additional car club car on the road helps take 13.4 privately-owned cars off it – not by force or coercion or by pricing people off the road, but by making it easier for people who’d be happy not to own a car but need to have the option to drive sometimes to make that choice. Working with the grain of the choices people want to make would be far more effective – and would not penalise those who need to drive more often. If only we had a Mayor who recognised that.

Sanjoy Sen: How can the Government accelerate a cleaner, more efficient future for transport?

10 Sep

Sanjoy Sen is a chemical engineer in North Sea oil. He contested Alyn & Deeside in the 2019 general election.

“It’s a bit like saying we’re banning the sale of steam engines by 2040″. So responded Aston University’s David Bailey to the axing of “conventional” (i.e. petrol and diesel) new car sales. As green alternatives improve and prices fall, which they both are at last, today’s vehicles will become obsolete long before any government deadline.

On the face of it, the road to zero-emission transport ought to be straightforward. Anything too big to lug around massive batteries (lorries, buses) works fine as a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle (FCV). Small stuff (private cars) are well-suited to becoming electric vehicles (EVs). And intermediates (taxis, delivery vans) could be either.

That, of course, overlooks myriad “where” issues: where to source the hydrogen and electricity, where to obtain battery metals, where to plug in. And that’s just one future scenario: the automotive industry is feeling highly uncertain with autonomous (self-driving) technology set to ultimately consign driving and car ownership to history. Furthermore, Covid-19 might fundamentally alter travel patterns, with greater flexibility replacing rush-hour madness.

Here in ConHome last month, Ruth Edwards MP proposed bringing forward the cut-off to 2030 whilst accelerating electric vehicle (EV) roll-out. Although I can’t violently disagree with that, EVs still aren’t an option for everyone yet. Meanwhile, others who could switch remain confused about technology and are wary of legislation changes. So, in the absence of a clear roadmap, how best might the Government help transportation to support the economy – and the environment?

Short-term: all about EVs?

Last year, I made some tentative EV queries. At one leading manufacturer, the UK’s annual allocation had long been snapped up on-line. At another, the dealer had plenty more customers than cars. Whilst I chose to hang back, EVs are fast becoming a practical, affordable proposition for many: it’s supply that can’t keep up until battery production ramps up and new models hit the market.

An increased purchase grant or scrappage scheme would offer manufacturers a much-needed short-term boost. But, as per Norway, could these become largely subsidies for the well-off? There’s only one thing I might contest in Edwards’ article: even Jeremy Clarkson isn’t berating EVs any more, it’s the dearth of plug-in facilities that infuriates him. To tackle the public’s fundamental concerns, government support might be better directed towards the charging network. (And, for that matter, energy storage.)

For many, however, EV prices and charging headaches remain a deterrent for now. But commuting on a small battery backed-up by a petrol engine whenever required might offer a near-seamless transition. So, rather than focussing solely on EVs, let’s see the Government recognise the value of plug-in hybrids and support these also.

But the biggest short-term improvement in urban air quality might be via an early switch towards zero-emission public transportation. Whilst the Government has provided urgent sector support during the current crisis, the Bus Service Operators Grant (BSOG) still favours diesels over FCVs and EVs: an obvious candidate for review.

What does the long-term future look like?

Environmental concerns and new technology put transportation into a state of flux long before Covid-19 did. And no-one seems more uncertain than the automotive industry itself. In Germany, Mercedes-Benz abandoned hydrogen cars just as deadly rival BMW announced its own FCV. Over in Japan, Toyota has long backed hybrids allowing Nissan to forge ahead in EVs, including Sunderland’s top-selling Leaf. Whilst in the States, GM’s Volt competitively-priced plug-in hybrid flopped (Vauxhall Ampera to us) – yet the public just can’t enough of upstart Tesla’s super-pricey EVs.

But there is growing acceptance that autonomous technology will prove a game-changer. Responding to the threat of sector entrants Google and Uber, Volkswagen’s vision of the future is a self-driving, shared-use ‘pod’, summoned up via an app. (So the next time you hear “I’m never buying an EV” or “you won’t catch me driving one of those plug-in things”, you’re probably listening to an enlightened futurist, not a frustrated Luddite.) This is a reality government needs to contend with in years to come, not decades.

Self-driving is often seen in a purely urban context but its opportunities could go much further. In rural areas, bus operators often ditch lightly-used routes uneconomic for a large, manned vehicle. Here, the Government might encourage early adoption of autonomous mini-buses operating in response to real-time demand: the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund is a welcome first step in this field. As well as a lifeline for the elderly and the socially-isolated, as we work from home in remote locations or commute at different times, it’s economies with flexible transportation that will emerge the strongest post-Covid.

And what shouldn’t the Government do?

Gone are the days when you could freely drive any vehicle down any street at any time. But let’s not make the future any more complicated than it needs to be. In addition to addressing infrastructure bottlenecks and supporting new technology, the smartest thing the Government can do is not confuse or antagonise motorists.

ConHome regulars will recall my satisfaction at trading an ageing gas-guzzler for an eco-friendly hybrid – quickly followed by indignation at the withdrawal of its Congestion Charge exemption. Clobbering folks nudged into doing the right thing might prove highly counter-productive, creating uncertainty and provoking resentment. Similarly, the Scottish government’s Workplace Parking Levy (a hastily thought-out concession to the Greens) penalises those lacking a public transport alternative, whilst in itself doesn’t reduce emissions.

No-one can predict precisely how the future of transportation is going to pan out. But it’s critical for the Government to consult consumers, industry and experts alike before taking the big decisions. The consequences for getting it wrong are significant. Remember, diesels were once touted as the clean future. And why rolling out smart motorways before the advent of smart vehicles was never going to end well.