BY GARFIELD KENNEDY
There was something particularly troubling about watching the George Osborne Show (a.k.a. the presentation of the Budget) this week. Rampant austerity is set to continue with a “promise” of respite just in time for the Conservatives to win again in 2020 (subject of course to the little matter of them clinging on this May).
But how come, if we’re so broke, we can afford to build the £50 billion HS2 rail link to get businessmen from Birmingham to London 30 minutes quicker?
The money pouring into HS2 seems a staggering amount of cash when weighed up against the rather modest (by comparison) £285 million that has been spent wisely to re-link Edinburgh to the Borders by rail.
As a left-leaning Liberal, I’m somewhat disturbed that the only political party in England that is definitely against HS2 is UKIP.
With 30 miles of new track, the new Borders line comes in at roughly £10 million a mile. If we could keep reopening lines at that rate, we could ditch HS2 and divert the funds to lay an extra 5000 miles of track covering eight times the length of Britain! If that ever happened we could spread the benefits to communities the length and breadth of Britain. Practically, we’d be back to the good old days before Dr Beeching.
Then there’s the Trident replacement: Again, we seem to be able to scrape together a further £100 billion to buy a nuclear weapon system that we could never use under any conceivable circumstance. Meanwhile, our conventional forces are being whittled away cut by cut. Soon we will have aircraft carriers ready to go into service that lack planes to put on them.
Our conventional capability is stretched to the limit while Putin, IS and the Middle East all have the potential to make difficult-to-predict demands on our Armed Forces. It is quite a leap to say we also need to be able to wage a nuclear war. And even if we did, do we really think that we’d be stupid enough to use our nuclear arsenal first, or somehow to use nukes to magically protect us if we were unfortunate enough to have been nuked?
Then there’s the £30 billion that Mr Osborne has somehow cobbled together to fund a massive road building programme. It flies in the face of any effort to reduce carbon emissions.
A more beneficial spend could be to support a reliable integrated public transport network. Bus services outside of our major cities are woefully inadequate. A hotch-potch of competing bus companies run services that don’t connect on timetables that often don’t make any sense.
It leaves the young, the old and the poor virtually cut off from the outside world in many towns and villages. Of course, this excludes car users – and therefore most of our politicians.
There is fast-approaching a form of social apartheid, where some rural bus services are growing so inadequate that accessing hospitals, shops and leisure facilities is becoming a near impossibility for the old and young and those without a motor car. Bus passes aren’t much use if there are no buses!
Those left with little choice but to use buses (where services have been cut or are out of step with need) are being forced to abandon rural communities they may have lived in for years to move into towns to access health services, and to avoid isolation. It leaves rural areas effectively cleansed of the poor, allowing the Range Rover and the fast car set to be free to roar around the countryside (presumably to hunt and shoot) without peasants to get in the way!
Releasing all the cash from these mega-projects would yield a staggering £180 billion – enough to pay off the predicted £2.5 billion overspend on this year’s NHS budget 72 times over.
It makes me think that we’re not so much living in a poor country but more in a richer-than-we-are-being-led-to-believe country… spending its cash foolishly lining deep corporate pockets.
Garfield Kennedy is a local Liberal politician in the south west of England