Our creative agency relies heavily on getting to places, whether that be for meetings, location shoots or bringing staff together and the cost of transport is key to the future growth of our business. This is both in the traditional sense of how much a train ticket costs or how much it is to fill the car with fuel, but also in the hidden costs of delays and inability to get easily to particular locations. For example we don’t build into our costs the penalties that we would incur for being unable to get to a shoot should a train or flight be cancelled or should there be chaos on the roads – our clients would never sign up for this as it’s too big a risk for them. If we can’t show up, we incur the costs of re-scheduling, lost productivity time and compensation for the client. It’s for these reasons that we have not only a passing interest but an active stake in the transport debate.
The briefing was very much focussed on the challenges facing London as it was a London Chamber of Commerce event, however London which accounts for almost a 5th of UK GDP is closely connected with the rest of the economy.
There was a particular focus on rail and aviation, with rail questions dominating the debate. The liveliest element of that debate was around the cost and need for HS2 – the high speed rail network between London and Birmingham, Manchester and eventually cities like Leeds and Glasgow. We remain sceptical about the need for HS2 as the UK doesn’t have the land mass of China to cover, however the Minister said “High speed rail is the future. we cannot afford not to have HS2”. Knocking what is essentially a few minutes off a journey time is hardly reason to spend billions when looking at existing rail fare costs, HS2 will likely be priced out of the market. On the subject of fares, the Minister argued that the fee rises that have been above inflation for the last decade are due to successive Conservative and Labour governments failing to invest in transport infrastructure when ‘times became hard’ which is why our crumbling infrastructure needs a shot of financial adrenaline now which runs into the billions. He followed on by saying that the taxpayer should not be expected to foot the full bill for this and that fare payers should contribute in no small way to the upgrades and additions. A point that objectively we can’t disagree with but the government has to realise that these ever increasing costs are crippling hard working individuals commuting into the capital, and placing yet more pressures on small businesses trying to navigate around the country to generate and fulfil sales. Previously fare increases were calculated at RPI + 3% however to give credit to this government it is now calculated at RPI + 1%, making a difference. We are at a tipping point and should the fares continue to rise at this rate, the capital will lose much of its talent and therefore competitiveness.
The aviation debate was perhaps less relevant to Square Daisy however there is still much consensus on the need for additional capacity at Heathrow to continue the airports ability to act as a major hub to Western Europe and the world, however the political hot potato and incessant in-fighting that this issue is and creates means that the UK will continue to lose its competitive edge whilst the laborious process of debate and consultation continues. As the Minister stated, there is a narrow business case for a third runway at Heathrow however the impact of residents in West London should be taken into account also, something which can quickly be overlooked if your place of residence is not near one of the worlds busiest airports. The proposed link with HS2 and Cross Rail 2 allows for easy connection to both Gatwick and Heathrow however which may facilitate some easing of the pressure.
A representative from Boeing was at the meeting and was quite right to point out that they are broadly apolitical about the debate as they are only interested in selling aircraft to willing buyers, however they acknowledged they could help to shape the debate by ensuring all lobbies and stakeholders were aware of the technologies that exist on aircraft now and those which are planned over the next 10-20 years, to give factual weight to the arguments for and against both environmental and air pollution.
Overall, what did we gain from the meeting this morning? Well there is a great deal of investment in infrastructure on HS2, Northern, Metropolitan, Circle & District and Hammersmith & Fulham tube lines, Cross Rail 2 and an ongoing debate around aviation capacity. Rail infrastructure on commuter lines and across the rest of the UK is desperately lacking as politicians scramble to deliver large scale, headline, vanity projects which leaves SME’s still juggling the demands of ever tighter margins on sales against increasing costs of delivery. Admittedly less prominent against a London backdrop, no mention was made of road investment or fuel prices. That said Jovan is once again at a transport briefing with Nick Clegg in April and has already submitted a question regarding the staggering cost of fuel which is crippling not just business, but households too. We are in favour of a carbon tax on fuel to drive better environmental standards, but there is a limit. It’s hard to carry filming kit on the back of a bike!