The great thing about bogeymen is that they distract us from the real issues we have to deal with. As long as Governments can stoke up our concerns about problems that don’t exist or that they have almost no control over, the real issues can slip under our radar. So this morning looking at the News Reports on my computer there are several stories about George Osborne and his ‘did he didn’t he’ over the reduction of the £1.7Bn bill for our catch up contributions since 1995. The 19 year timescale doesn’t make the bill any less, but complaining about an extra £89M per year seems to have less resonance in an economy such as ours. Along with George, because of the undeclared race in the Conservative Party to replace David Cameron, Theresa May is also complaining about the EU and the red tape of their bureaucracy that is holding us all back. Whilst my own view of water cannon is that they are the wrong thing for the rest of the UK outside of Northern Ireland, how long does it take for one person to make a decision about whether Boris can use his 3 water cannon or not. That is home grown bureaucracy for you. No one in Brussels is slowing down that decision. Whilst we are talking about the home Office, their failure to decide who will Chair the Childhood Sexual Exploitation enquiry is hardly a model of perfection.
One of the news reports however is clearly not of bogeyman material, it is something that George and Theresa and Dave and Nick all have had the opportunity to influence. It is a matter that involves a sum that makes £1.7Bn seem like small change. The cost to you and I of the subsidy to Network Rail over their current 5 year business cycle is £38Bn. That is £7.6Bn per year to invest in the infrastructure of our railway system. According to the report in the Independent passengers are facing longer delays than at any time since 2007. Nearly 10% of trains since April has been significantly behind schedule, and the organisation was fined £53M last year for its lack of punctuality. When Mrs May blames the EU and its rules and regulations for damaging Britain’s economy and calling on a reform, she is calling on that good old reliable bogeyman. I work for a small business, there are undoubtedly a number of areas where rules do affect our working lives. However the late running of trains and failure of this Government to invest in ‘relatively’ small projects such as the Lewes to Uckfield rail link has much more of an affect as we attempt to do business and grow our workforce. If Mrs May and Mr Osborne could attend to issues that are happening on their watch, their concerns about the EU would sound more believable.
On a final note, one of the ways in which our company could improve the lot of all rail commuters would be to get a chance to pitch our ideas to the very same Network Rail. The sound systems on their stations are woefully inadequate for passengers who can’t hear messages and for neighbours who can’t avoid the sound. However the Network Rail bureaucracy is unbelievably challenging. That sort of change might not speed any trains up but it would improve communication for travellers. That £53M that the company was fined last year could pay for an extensive upgrade on 100’s of stations and allowed us to employ a great many people into the bargain!