British transport is in a bad state. For the working people who are at the receiving end of the system's failures, this is obvious. However, the conclusions of the Eddington Study on the subject, which was published on 1 December 2006, hardly point to any improvements for the working population - quite the opposite. But then Rod Eddington was not asked by Gordon Brown who commissioned his study, to report on how British transport systems measure up to the population's needs. After all, that is hardly a government preoccupation, except when it comes to pre-election rhetoric. No, Eddington's brief was to provide the point of view of British business on transport. And that is what he did, no more and no less.
However, it is worth looking at Eddington's proposals, if only because the government is likely to adopt them. But beforehand, let us briefly assess the state of British transport from the point of view of the working class, since Eddington does not.
Overcrowded trains, congested roads
As far as the railways go, today many commuters in and out of Britain's cities face a cattle-truck experience, beset by delays due to engine faults, signalling problems and the lack of bypass tracks if something goes wrong on the line.
This is hardly surprising. From the 1950s onwards, the rail network (then state owned) has been subject to drastic cuts. Initially it was assumed by the governments of the day (conveniently, from the point of view of reducing state expenditure), that cars would be "taking over". In 1950, the cuts took out almost half of the existing network - leaving a total rail route-mileage of 17,000 miles. Between 1962 and 1968, the implementation of Dr Beeching's "Reshaping of Britain's Railways" further cut rail route mileage down to 13,000 miles. After two decades of more cuts, and then privatisation, by the 1990s, the rail network's mileage had dwindled to a total of 10,072 miles.
Nevertheless, when the Labour government came into power in 1997, having reneged on its promise to renationalise the railways, it decided that rail should take the pressure off the now highly congested roads - even though it was obvious that this would be impossible without a huge expansion in the rail network! But it was certainly a gesture towards the "green vote". The plan was that, by 2010, there was to be an increase in rail passenger use of 50% and an increase in rail freight use of 80%.
However, two years later, under the "Transport 2000" 10-year plan, this commitment had already been watered down significantly. The government would somehow still "encourage" a shift to rail, but the language used said it all: it was no longer intended to rationalise a chaotic transport system, but to "boost the market share of rail in both passenger numbers and freight". By implication, this meant that the aim was only to increase the private rail companies' profits. No specific figures were given as targets, nor did the government force companies to transport goods by rail instead of on articulated lorries, nor compel the private train operators to invest and expand their services. "Market forces" were supposed to do this!
As it happened, the shift to rail freight never even started to happen. In fact, quite the reverse, with the government itself leading the way! In 2004, Royal Mail night trains carrying mail by train to the North-east and Scotland, were terminated, shifting mail transport onto road. After furious lobbies by the private rail freight companies, one of them, GB Railfreight, was given a 1-year contract in 2005, to run just 2 mail trains a day from London to Scotland. But the bulk of mail continues to be transported by road. Yet if there is an area in which road congestion could be reduced through a more rational system, it is certainly by cutting the transport of goods by road. But this would mean rail investment that the capitalist class is just not interested in making.
And yet, it is not as if there was not a real problem. Congestion on British roads is the worst in Europe, according to a 2005 report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Of course, road use has been increasing almost exponentially since the 1950s when car-use first began to mushroom and when the first motorways were built. But while road traffic has grown by 81% since 1980, only 120 miles were added to major trunk roads between 1996 and 2002. As a result, the road network remains desperately inadequate. There is not even a direct motorway connecting eastern Scotland with England, nor to major towns in the south east, like Hastings, or even all the way to many harbours, despite the fact that huge articulated lorries have to use, unsafely, single-lane "A"-roads as a result!
Under-investment and dodgy safety
As regards rail passenger services, it is estimated that today, after a 30% increase in numbers, we are back to 1963 passenger levels again. However, with 42% fewer route miles than in 1963, it is not too surprising that there is standing room only during rush hours, often for the duration of a whole journey between main cities. The one measure taken to increase carriage capacity was to make the seats narrower, meaning that if you are lucky enough to sit down, you can have extremely intimate, but very uncomfortable journeys! Capacity for trains on the East Coast Main Line track, running from King's Cross via the North-east to Edinburgh, is full. The West Coast Main Line (to Glasgow) and Midland Main Line are running at 90% of capacity. This means that more trains just cannot be added to run on these tracks. Indeed, there is an obvious and clear case for the proposed third, brand new, state-of-the-art line from London to Scotland. But more of this later.
Technologically, British railways trains lag behind those of all the major developed European countries. There are only three high speed lines - Virgin's West Coast Main Line service, where trains go up to 125mph, GNER's East Coast Mainline where trains can go up to 140mph, and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link where the top speed should be 186mph, once the new line to St Pancras is completed (maybe sometime in 2007). In France, where already in 1981, the state railway had introduced trains which could reach 186mph, double-decker high-speed trains are now common, thereby doubling the number of seats available.
However, here in Britain such speeds would be lethal, given the poor state of tracks, signalling and safety technology. In fact despite recommendations dating back all the way to the Clapham rail disaster in 1988, that Automatic Train Protection (ATP) should be fitted to all trains, this was never done. ATP prevents "over-speeding" and would stop a train automatically, if a red signal is passed, even at speeds over 125mph. To date it has only been fitted to Great Western Railway trains between Bristol and London, the Heathrow Express, the Chiltern Line and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.
Against all recommendations from the commissions set up in the wake of Clapham and the many other fatal train crashes which followed, the rest of the rail network was fitted with a cheaper system which can only protect trains travelling at 70mph or less, called TPWS. By 2010, a better, "European Rail Traffic Management System" (ERTM), protecting at speeds over 70mph is meant to be fitted to all trains, but currently this is only a pilot project on Cambrian Lines in Wales! And this was only belatedly agreed, thanks to European legislation, since the British government had previously ruled it out, even if it was long ago the standard system in France and Germany. It was considered not to be "cost effective", since "only" 2 deaths per year due to "signals passed at danger" would be prevented. But it is unlikely that the programme for fitting it will be completed by 2010.
As for rolling stock, some Mark 1 engines and carriages with slam-doors, like those involved in the Clapham disaster and dating back to the 1950s, are still in use on southern lines in England, despite the fact that they are meant to have been replaced by now!
Paying through the nose
Following the law of the market, since seats are so scarce, rail fares have increased to the point where they are the highest in Europe, if not the world. A "saver" return from London to Edinburgh (332 miles) costs £98. Paris to Bordeaux (310 miles) costs £47.50, Berlin to Munich (312 miles) £70.75, and Madrid to Barcelona (314 miles) £42.85. Equivalent fares from New York to Pittsburgh and Tokyo to Osaka are 50% and 30% less respectively. This has not stopped the private sharks running the trains in Britain from raising fares yet again this year, by up to 7.3%. A standard open return from London to Glasgow now costs £240!
In London, the Underground may still be publicly-owned, but under the auspices of Mayor Ken Livingstone, it has been following the example of the private railways, so that Tube fares are the highest among European capitals. Following the latest 33% increase, a single cash fare on the tube is now £4 in London, whereas in Paris it is 74p, in Berlin £1.41, and in Madrid, 67p. Livingstone claims that the introduction of the pre-pay "Oyster Card" is, however, Europe's "biggest and most successful smartcard ticketing system", no doubt, since it allows the cutting of ticket office jobs. But the "discounted" pre-paid Oyster fares are still on average three times higher than those in other European capitals.
The increase in fares for 2007 is supposed to "push" those who have not yet opted for the Oyster card, to do so. But since this Oyster card is still not accepted on almost all of the busiest train routes in and out of London and not even on the North London Link yet (due to be taken over by TfL at some point), it offers little advantage to the many commuters belonging to the poorer sections of the working class, who have no option other than to catch a train to go to work!
Ironically, despite these exorbitant fares, the state of the London Underground has not improved. There are now 28% more passengers than 10 years ago, without any new tube lines - with the exception of the completion of the long-delayed Jubilee extension in 2000. The Docklands Light Railway - the last major infrastructure investment was completed in 1987 - 20 years ago!
Livingstone, prides himself in the increase in bus services and it is estimated that 90% of London's workers travel by public transport, that is by tube or bus. However, the poorer section of London's workers have no choice but to catch the bus, because they just cannot afford to take the tube. And even if the services have increased in number on some routes, buses are full to bursting in the rush hours and often one has to wait for a second or third on before one can squash on. What is more, these fares are not cheap! A single cash fare on the buses is now £2 - doubled since 2003! With the Oyster card, single bus journeys are £1, but that is up from 80p last year. This is far too high for the low-paid who rely exclusively on this form of transport.
How to pave the roads with gold
Chancellor Brown could not have chosen anyone more fit for the job of reporting on transport "from the point of view of business", than Rod Eddington. He is a true-blue expert on transport profiteering.
After 5 years as the chief executive of British Airways, from 2000 to 2005, during which his cost-cutting programme saw 14,000 jobs disappear, Eddington now spends time (back in his native Australia) with his friends on the boards of various companies where he has non-executive director positions. Yes, with the likes of Rupert Murdoch's News International Corporation, as well as JP Morgan, Rio Tinto and John Swire and Sons which owns Cathay Pacific Airways as well as the biggest oil and gas shipping company in the world, based in Hong Kong.
So, just as would be expected from the ex-CEO of BA and a bosom pal of shipping interests, his study recommends more airport runways - so that there can be even more flights - and more port facilities to facilitate trade.
Eddington's main contribution - and this was no doubt what Brown intended - was to provide what he puts forward as "evidence" that the government's idea to bring in congestion pricing for motorists, will be "effective".
He begins by asserting that "the UK is already well-connected" as regards transport networks, so the "key challenge is to improve the performance of the existing network" but only in areas "where networks are critical in supporting economic growth". In other words, not in areas where there is no transport service, because it is not profitable, nor areas where the population has to rely on a few sparse bus services. Yet today, this is the reality for many of the outlying working class suburbs around major cities, as well as for most smaller towns in Britain.
Priorities for transport policy actions will be congested urban areas, key inter-urban connections and international gateways... "They are the places where transport constraints have significant potential to hold back economic growth."
As for provision of the alternative - better and cheaper railway services for those who will not be able to use their cars anymore, that is out of the question, at least until "market forces" prove that it will be a lucrative alternative for the private companies involved. And given the formerly "most lucrative" GNER rail company's current crisis, this is a highly unlikely scenario. What is more, the case for a new high-speed train between London and the North has been rejected out of hand. Apparently encouraged by treasury officials, Eddington opposed this proposed new rail link, which was costed at around £15bn, arguing that "economic benefits were unimpressive" and that some parts of the existing network should, instead, just be re-engineered.
His advice to relieve rail congestion in the short term was for a rail "congestion charge" that is for fares to be increased to even higher levels than their present exorbitant one to force the less well-off, off them! But at least he added that trains could be made longer (provided, no doubt, that it would not need too much investment to increase the length of platforms!)
But Eddington does not suggest that new motorways are built either. He and his panel of economic advisors (headed by Sir Nicholas Stern, who was responsible for the greenhouse gas review published last October), warn against being seduced by "grand projects". As Austin Williams, head of the "Future Cities" project, put it in the Sunday Telegraph, Eddington's approach is a "patch and repair" one.
Reducing the amount of traffic on the existing roads, is for Eddington, more "cost-effective" than building new ones. Why? Simply because, according to him, not building roads can actually make money! And this is the crucial point in his study. "Without road pricing, beyond 2015 there would be a case for significantly increasing the current rate of enhancement of the strategic road network" - and apparently this must be avoided, but not at all costs - no, at significant cost to the private motorist!
Of course the exact amount which motorists will be charged per mile, or precisely on which stretches of road, has not yet been decided. A figure of "up to" £1.28 per mile has been cited so far.
The timetable for road pricing is meant to cover a ten-year period, starting with pilot schemes, both on inter-urban and urban roads. These pilot schemes are to be begun in 10 areas with Cardiff and Manchester having expressed interest, so far. But that has not prevented Eddington from predicting that the income from penalty charges on motorists who have not paid up, will come to around £13bn - £620 per motorist - per annum! And Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander, in a speech just a few days after Eddington issued his report, claimed that "Road pricing has been demonstrated to be the most effective way to deal with congestion". So even if the pilots have not yet started, and even if a new Transport Bill has still to be passed before road pricing becomes law, it seems it is already a fait accompli, at least for Blair's ministers.
The hypocrisy of the "climate change" argument
In fact it is quite obscene that a blood-sucking boardroom parasite like Eddington is asked to justify the imposition of such a scheme on the British public, using the alarming issue of "climate change", based on an idea that we are all equally responsible for it and must therefore be punished by paying for it.
We are continually reminded that "transport" contributes 25% of all carbon emissions (but who can check such figures?). Yet, while private motorists are to be Eddington's main target in his alleged crusade against greenhouse gases, it is notable that there is no break-down as to the proportion of emissions coming out of the exhausts of business vehicles and trucks!
Just to add to this, Environment secretary, David Milliband has announced that carbon ration books will be available in 4 years time, so that if individuals exceed their "carbon allowance" for example, by driving too much, or taking too many flights, they will have to pay extra for it. As if this kind of transaction will actually reduce emissions!
This is the same kind of reasoning which is in "Sir" Nicholas Stern's Review on the economics of climate change. Indeed, it had the self-same remit as the Transport Study - to assess the impact of cutting carbon emissions... on British business. The main basis for reducing greenhouse gases is the so-called carbon trading scheme, whereby companies accrue credit and losses among themselves, for taking or not taking measures to reduce their carbon emissions, as the case may be. But of course, rich companies - usually the worst polluters, like the petrochemicals industry - can afford to "offset" their pollution and therefore carry on pouring out toxic fumes and greenhouse gases. It is therefore easy to understand why targets for reducing greenhouse gases by 70% are only envisaged as being reached by 2050, even if Blair himself tells us that environmental catastrophe is "imminent"!
What is most telling, is that Stern's review actually says that the transport sector should be among the last sectors to cut emissions, because the cost to this sector is reckoned to be the highest! But which part of the "transport sector" is Stern so worried might suffer, if not the aviation industry - which is apparently the biggest culprit of all in the sector? Since Stern was also chief economic advisor to Eddington's "study", perhaps this all begins to make some kind of sense!
However, Eddington's report does speak about "new ways" to tackle congestion, even if he advises against them. He argues that "Simply stopping growth in transport demand is not a realistic scenario. Therefore technological progress is fundamental if we are to break the link between economic success, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions".
But the problem is, apparently, that "some of the most exciting prospective technologies are undeveloped or untested and carry significant uncertainties and risks around cost[!], deliverability, public acceptability and the scale of benefits. It is too soon to second guess what will be available in 20 years' time. Instead the right answer is to create a policy framework that will encourage technological innovation and identify the key points when technology developments should start to influence strategic decisions - and to make sure policy does not make expensive mistakes by pursuing untried and untested technologies."
How many times does one have to point out that the first electric cars were invented in the mid-19th century!
As if the technology to improve transport and therefore cut pollution, was not already widely available and tested! After all, when it came to a prestige development like Canary Wharf, the new extension of London's City in the mid-1980s, the high-tech electric Docklands Light Railway was built to enhance the market value of this luxurious development. Likewise with the Channel Tunnel Rail Link to France, which owes its advent to the prestige of the link and the pressure of competition from the airlines.
So in truth, no "second guessing" of what things may be like in 20 year's time is needed. All Eddington would have to do is take on board what was already tried and tested over 20 years ago!
Of course, what Eddington is really up to, is spelling out that the capitalist class is not prepared to invest in new technologies (like state-of- the-art railways) to modernise transport, nor in fact to cut greenhouse gas emissions. There is too much "risk" involved with investment on that scale, meaning, in layman's terms, not enough guaranteed profits for big business. And, of course, so it has ever been.
That was why the railways were nationalised, in the first place, after WW2 - so that the state could shoulder the "risk" of upgrading a run-down rail network. Over the past decade, once again, but this time due to privatisation, the rail network has been starved of significant investment, and even of sufficient train and track maintenance for that matter.
While state subsidies to the railways were increased after privatisation, they were simply siphoned off by the private sharks. This eventually forced the Labour government to take over control of tracks and signals under Network Rail - in order to avoid a total collapse of the system, by ensuring that at least some of its subsidies actually went into rail investment!
Of course, for Eddington there is no question of learning from experience. The obvious lesson of the past decade may be that only full state ownership can protect the railways from the parasitism of the profiteers, and bring about some improvement. But for Eddington and Co., the problem is not to protect public transport (nor the environment) from capitalist parasitism, but to advise capital on the most profitable ways to parasitise public transport!
So today, since investment would mean initially little or no profits, or delayed profits, Eddington would rather turn the transport system into a two-tier one - where the most modern and convenient parts are only available for the rich and for business to use!
And in the future, as pressure builds up? Well, that can look after itself - it will be left to the anarchy of the market. If the poor revolt against being treated like cattle, it will be up to the government to intervene, one way, or another.
In the meantime those in the lower tier, including those forced out of their cars, are expected to add further to the incomes of private bus companies (but only if "market forces" have resulted in an available bus or coach service, of course!), or ride bicycles, or better still, walk! Eddington's sanctimonious justification of this on the grounds that it will be good for the environment may cut ice with some of the "green lobby", but it is contemptuous nonsense. Of course, it fits in nicely with the current fashion of placing the individual at centre stage - we are meant to think that we are to blame for the mess things have gotten into, including global warming. If only we all switched off our lights, recycled our cornflakes packets and rode bikes, then all would be well!
Eddington has made this explicit in his Transport Study. To quote: "I have long argued and do so again in this report, that transport users across all modes should meet the full environmental costs of their travel. From an economic and an environmental perspective, demand management through proper pricing should play a major role in slowing the future rate of growth in demand."
So the least well off in British society will take responsibility for paying for the reduction of carbon emissions from the transport sector, even if this is a totally cosmetic gesture. But giant trucks will carry on plying the motorways, as will the 4X4 gas-guzzlers, owned by the well-off, who can afford the road price. Air travel and rail travel will also be "congestion charged", however. The former to avoid having to increase capacity and the latter because airline companies complain that they cannot reduce their emissions without increasing ticket prices. And while demand for these services continues to outstrip supply, thanks to a policy not to invest in much-needed major new public transport facilities, they think they can get away with it!
Evidence of a bounty for business
Eddington's case for British business could not be more clear. As he explains in his summary to the 350-page Study: "Transport projects in[the key urban congestion zones, inter-urban connections and international gateways] offer remarkably high returns with benefits four times in excess of costs on many schemes, even when environmental costs have been factored into the assessment."
He points out that "There are very high returns from making the best use of existing networks. Getting the prices right across all modes offers a very real prize: pricing on the roads offers potential benefits of up to £28bn each year in 2025."
Of course it is short term profits for the capitalist class that Eddington is referring to here. And what is more, substantial profits! In other words, rather than provide the necessary extra miles of roads or railway lines, simply use pricing to cut the congestion - by making it too expensive for a whole section of the population to drive, while those who can pay, are fleeced.
Eddington gives all kinds of figures as to how much this will benefit British business by reducing congestion, and, of course benefit "the environment" as well, by reducing emissions. He says that there will be £2.5bn of cost savings per annum for businesses... or that eliminating road congestion would be worth £7-8bn of GDP per annum... or that there will be £15bn in productivity gains. Is that because road maintenance would be less? Or, given his good experience at job-slashing, that he anticipates that there will be substantial labour "cost savings"?
Anyway, one can take one's pick of the amounts which he cites, because it's anybody's guess what all of this actually means. Such measures just cannot be sensibly quantified - it is number crunching at its most dishonest and for entirely dishonest reasons. Because road pricing - an additional tax on motorists - is not a tax which will go towards "saving the environment" nor be pumped back into transport projects.
A huge new enterprise for parasitic businesses will be born out of it - and be granted yet more lucrative contracts by the government to "manage" the pricing schemes - and it is entirely probable that they will be the only winners.
In order to test the electronic systems for monitoring vehicles, the government will be forking out taxpayers' money during the "feasibility studies", to purchase the technology. £10m has already been granted for "working with the private sector" and Douglas Alexander, the transport secretary has said that from 2008, the government will provide £200m a year for the first schemes to be implemented, in "partnership" with private companies.
An old concept
Congestion charging within cities, or indeed road pricing, are not new ideas. A congestion charge was first mooted for London as long ago as 1964. But after a study into its merits, undertaken by the Greater London Council, the scheme was rejected in favour of improving public transport. However, ever since 1999, congestion charging and road pricing have been discussed as a serious proposal by Blair's government with a section devoted to it in the Transport 2000 policy.
In "Breaking the logjam: a consultation paper", also published in 2000, it was pointed out that although in Britain "we have fewer cars than in other European countries... we drive more miles and use public transport less. So our roads are more congested." Whether this is in fact the main reason why roads are more congested was not put into question. An admission that there might not be enough road miles would be an admission of government failure, after all, but also unpopular with the environmentalists that Labour has tried to woo. The document went on to argue that road traffic would grow by more than a third in the next 20 years, resulting in a "logjam", unless something was done. Costs to businesses would rise and there would be more damage to the environment - and as a result of pollution, "our health would suffer".
So the only answer that the government would consider was to find ways to get people out of their cars and onto public transport. At this point, at least the government felt it was necessary to "encourage" better rail services and better bus services, on paper, anyway. But of course it was down to the private companies who run these services to respond, in "partnership" with public bodies. By the same token, there was no question of reducing truck transport of goods by road, by actually forcing companies to move onto rail.
Significantly, however, what they termed an "imaginative" proposal, allowed local councils to institute charging on congested roads or introduce workplace parking charges "provided they plough back money into transport improvements".
In fact, charging for workplace parking has now been widely introduced - and most notoriously at hospitals, where patient and visitor charges are also the rule. But the profits thus made are creamed off by the private companies which in most cases are subcontracted to run workplace parking facilities. So, little or none of the revenue ends up being "ploughed back" into public services and a great deal into the pockets of private shareholders!
The Transport 2000 legislation also gave the go-ahead to local councils to introduce congestion charging inside towns and cities.
So urban road congestion has recently been the subject of many measures. But rather than improving junctions, or widening roads, to increase traffic flow, most of the measures taken have been to get drivers out of their cars and onto buses or bicycles.
However, since the privatisation of bus services in the 1980s, only the most profitable routes are well provided for by the bus companies, unless subsidies are available from local councils. Of course, there are "park and ride" schemes which work quite well. But dedicated bus and bicycle lanes have now eliminated the second (or third) lanes of the roads in some towns. Which often makes traffic congestion worse, since there is even less space on the roads, unless traffic has been cut by other means, like the central London congestion charge, for instance!
This charge, which is now three years old, provides an instructive example of profiteering out of public transport.
The case of London's Congestion Charge
It was Mayor Ken Livingstone who implemented the London congestion charge in February 2003, despite the fact that less than half (46%) of Londoners agreed with it. But Livingstone exercised his "mandate" as elected mayor, and went ahead anyway. It was also introduced in Durham - while it was rejected in other cities, like Edinburgh, for instance, where a referendum in 2005 resulted in a 75% vote against.
It was anticipated that once the London scheme was up and running, there would be at least £160m-£200m per year net revenue, out of an income of £138m in charge payments and £110m from fines.
When a review was held six months into the scheme this estimate for net revenue had gone down to £80-£100m per year. Charge revenues turned out to be lower than expected and penalty revenues higher than predicted. After the first year, the charge apparently actually brought in only £70m, but in 2004/5, a bit more, at £97m. This was still short of what had been predicted, and no doubt goes some way to explaining why the charge was increased from £5 to £8 per day in July 2006.
Livingstone's justification was that the increase would allow more investment in local transport, chiefly buses... owned by private shareholders. That said, how much actually ends up going towards improving transport services is anybody's guess, since a precise "congestion charge" balance sheet, explaining where the money comes from and where it goes, is not actually produced for public perusal. And "commercial secrecy" prevents the public from knowing the exact terms under which payments are made to the private operator, Capita, which is contracted to manage the scheme!
However, when Livingstone is asked about congestion charge profits, he answers that the scheme was never intended as a revenue generator, but to reduce congestion and pollution. And in this, he claims it is a great success. Apparently congestion has been reduced by one third, volume of traffic by (only) 15% and a shift to public transport by commuters has been 9%, with a claimed 90% of people travelling into the congestion charging area using public transport.
Whether all the workers who have no choice but to take public transport are beneficiaries is another question altogether, even if there are more buses to catch. Many shift workers may well rather drive to work, due to the poorer late evening and night services on trains and buses, especially women, but cannot now do so without paying the charge.
Capita cleans up
There is one clear beneficiary of the London congestion charge on the other hand, and that is the private company which operates it on behalf of Transport for London (TfL), the ubiquitous and notorious Capita. Its five year contract is said to be valued at £280m (over £50m per year).
However, in 2003, Capita was apparently bailed out by TfL to the tune of £31m since it was having difficulty collecting 103,000 outstanding fines. Nevertheless, that year, Capita made a significant after-tax profit of £59m!
In fact the company owes its very existence to government outsourcing in the first place, but only became the "UK's market leader in providing business process outsourcing services" - as it describes itself - after Labour came to power. Its turnover in 1998 was "a mere" £238m, but by 2006, this had shot up 7-fold, to £1.4bn, with net profits of £197.5m!
No surprise, perhaps, that Capita's chief executive, Rod Aldridge was one of 12 donors to the Labour Party recently exposed as "lending" £14m to the party before the last election. And in his case his £1m "loan" had "absolutely nothing" to do with being awarded government contracts, of course!
Capita was purportedly fined £4.5m for missing congestion charge targets in 2005, but that did not prevent two of its directors from cashing in share options worth £1.3m a few days afterwards, when its profits were reported as £149m (near doubled over the previous year) and share prices consequently soared. Nor has its past poor performance in managing the congestion charge prevented Mayor Ken Livingstone from giving Capita the contract for the Western Extension to the charging zone, due to come into effect on 19 February 2007 - again, against majority public opposition.
Evidently, Londoners and those who live outside London but work in the capital have not heard the last of congestion charge zone extensions, since there are plans to extend it further eastwards - and also to increase the charge to £10 - at a future date. And there is every reason to believe that other towns and cities in Britain may still follow Livingstone's example, provided, of course, that they do not meet popular resistance.
"Green" profiteering into the incinerator!
What is significant about today's government policy on transport is its crude use of the environmental crisis as a justification for helping powerful business lobbies and hammering the less well-off and the poor. Certainly, there were those in the environmental lobby who applauded Eddington's "study". But then this lobby now even includes the much-lampooned Tory aspirant for Blair's crown, David Cameron!
Green politics have in fact become "centre ground". It is not only acceptable to be "green" but mandatory, even among the big companies which are the world's main polluters. Hence "corporate responsibility" public relations like that of Ford Motor Company which flaunts alternative energy windmills in its Dagenham east London factory, or its bio-roof at its Rouge plant in Detroit - while Ford (of course!) carries on mass-producing carbon-emitting cars and trucks! Anti-car-use Mayor, Ken Livingstone even gave Ford-UK his annual "green business award" in 2005 for its show business!
Tinkering with exhaust fumes or replacing power stations with windmills is, however, par for the course, in a world where the root cause of economic and social catastrophes - like wars - has to be evaded, because if this was exposed, it would mean halting the most destructive force mankind has yet created - an economic system which places profit above human life and above the life of the planet.
The "Eddington Study" is a classical example of this. Instead of remedying the appalling state of Britain's transport infrastructure, modernising the railways, applying engineering techniques - already long-known - to improve public transport, Eddington submits a framework for keeping British capitalists and their system healthy - at the expense of the rest of us. This may have been entirely predictable, but it is still utterly contemptible. Eddington and his political sponsors in government should not get away with it!