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Archive for the ‘Transport’ Category

Monday
Nov 18,2013

For the past six months I have been chairing the Lords’ Select Committee on the Olympic and Paralympic Legacy. And today, after 33 evidence sessions, hearing from 53 witnesses and taking written submissions from 67 organisations and individuals, we have published our report – with 41 recommendations.

So what are our main conclusions?

The Games themselves were an outstanding success, absolutely vindicating the decision by Tony Blair and Ken Livingstone to back London’s bid, as well as exceeding expectations and confounded the sceptics. That success was only delivered through incredible cooperation between the numerous organisations involved, the host Boroughs and virtually every Whitehall department. Since the Games however, the same political impetus and the imperative of a deadline no longer exist. As a result many aspects of the legacy are in danger of faltering and some have fallen by the wayside. There is a lack of ownership and leadership.

That is why we recommend giving a single Cabinet-level Minister overall responsibility for all strands of the legacy. Only someone with senior clout will be able to bang heads together across different departments, including Education with its role in school sport and funding, Health which is supposed to be getting us all more active and healthier, DCMS with its responsibility for the sports governing bodies – plus all the departments that should be working to deliver the economic benefits not only in London but across the UK.

In London itself, the Office of Mayor should be given unambiguous responsibility for holding and taking forward the vision for East London and the developments in the Olympic Park and the surrounding area.

East London has for over a hundred years contained some of the most deprived communities in our country. Too many still live in poor and grossly overcrowded properties or in temporary accommodation. Unemployment rates are among the UK’s worst and the skills gap means that local businesses cannot find the staff they need. Delivering the Olympics brought forward much-needed infrastructure improvements but making sure that all the potential new jobs and new housing are delivered will require laser-like focus and determination from the Mayor.

There is suitable land for housing in East London but it is not being used. One Borough says that the biggest problem is land-banking. In another, Barking and Dagenham, one site, part-owned by the Greater London Authority, has permission for 11,000 dwellings but only 300 have been built. There is much that the Mayor should be doing.

Stratford International has had £1bn of public investment to equip it for high-speed international rail services, but none stop there. It is time that the Transport Department persuaded the operators that at least some of their services should use the facilities, bringing in both travellers and business.

As for the promised “cultural legacy”, the term only appeared twice in more than 500 pages of written evidence and the only tangible thing mentioned by DCMS Secretary Maria Miller was the world tour of the inflatable Stonehenge that she described as “a fantastic way of bringing Britain to life overseas.”

As far as sports participation is concerned, the step-change improvement hoped for did not occur. If anything, the slow steady improvement seen since 2005 has faltered. Facilities at grassroots level need to be improved and we received much evidence telling us that the Coalition’s scrapping of School Sports Partnerships was a big mistake.

Although we hunted for White Elephants among the facilities created for the Games, we didn’t find them. But the unseemly squabbling of West Ham United and Leyton Orient football clubs over the Olympic Stadium was most unedifying. It is important that more effort is made to ensure that this national asset is put to good use with maximum possible community use, including possibly by the club that was unsuccessful in the bid process.

That is the overall lesson of the report: the London Games were a huge success but much more still needs to be done to ensure the nation gets the maximum possible return on its investment.

 

Monday
Jul 22,2013

I have tabled a question for oral answer in the House of Lords this afternoon, as follows:

“To ask HM Government what proportion of the United Kingdom’s critical national infrastructure is owned by foreign-owned companies; and what assessment they have made of the benefits and disbenefits of that level of ownership”

I am sure I will receive a courteous answer but I rather suspect that what it will boil down to is (1) the Government don’t really know what proportion of our infrastructure is in foreign hands; (2) that they haven’t really got a policy on it; and (3) even if they wanted to do something about it they feel it is either too late or there is nothing that they can do.

Earlier this month the Government announced, in response to a critical report from the Intelligence and Security Committee, that it would be reviewing the role of Chinese-owned Huawei in the UK’s telecommunications and security infrastructure.  This is welcome, if a bit late.  I have been banging on about this for ages: for example here and here.

Six years ago the think tank Chatham House reported that

“as much as 90% of the UK’s critical national infrastructure is not government owned and a large proportion of that is under foreign ownership.”

Most of London’s electricity is provided by Electricite de France.  Does anyone seriously doubt what would happen if it was a choice between switching the lights out in London or Paris because of some crisis?

In the last 10 years, Ferrovial of Spain has bought BAA, the operator of Heathrow and Stansted airports, Germany’s RWE has acquired npower, and Australian bank Macquarie has taken control of car parks by buying NCP.

German group Deutsche Bahn recently bought rail and bus operator Arriva, while ports company P&O, which owns assets at Tilbury and Southampton, was also bought by Dubai’s DP World in 2006.

This Government bangs on about the threat to British sovereignty presented by the UK’s membership of the EU, but they seem to be utterly silent on the implications for our sovereignty of having so much of our infrastructure controlled by foreign governments or its future being determined  at the whim of foreign investors who are unlikely to have the UK’s national interest at the top of their priorities.

Very few other nations would be so sanguine.

Monday
Jan 28,2013

There were a series of exchanges during Question Time in the House of Lords this afternoon on the Arctic and the implications of the melting of the ice cap.  The implications are substantial – and not just because of the impact on global sea levels.  There is the potential opening up of a new sea route: the North West Passage sought by explorers so assiduously for centuries.  There is the potentially easier access to mineral deposits and the possibility of oil drilling as the ice recedes.  The ocean (and this brings with it the rights to exploitation of natural resources) itself falls within the territorial waters of a handful of countries – principally Canada, Russia and Greenland.

So what is the strategy being followed to protect UK interests (indeed have those interests even been defined)?

Alas, the answer is not to be found in today’s Hansard:

Lord Giddens

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the 2012 Arctic Report Card of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the United States showing record-low sea ice extent in the Arctic Ocean during the past year.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Baroness Verma):My Lords, the Government have noted the contents of the NOAA report with concern. The observed reductions of Arctic sea ice extent and thickness and the consequent regional environmental and societal impacts re-emphasise the urgent need for strong international action to tackle climate change. The UK has a leading role in the international negotiations and is working through the European Union, the G8 and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to reach further global agreement to reduce emissions. Domestically, we are also taking action through the Green Deal and through the Energy Bill.

Lord Giddens:I thank the Minister for that Answer. The self-same report says, in heavy scientific jargon, that the extreme melting of the Arctic is a kick up the pants to the world. In terms of doing more to combat climate change, I take it that the Minister will agree with that assessment. Are the Government prepared to work bilaterally with the Americans on the possible implications for changing weather patterns in the north Atlantic, since such changes look quite likely? These changes will have radical implications for our own weather and are perhaps already beginning. Are the Government working, or planning to work, with the Americans on these issues?

Baroness Verma:My Lords, the noble Lord raises a very important issue—we must be mindful of the different weather patterns that we are witnessing currently. We work through the UNFCCC process, and at the recent conference of the parties in Doha all countries restated their commitment to negotiate a global deal by 2015 on a single comprehensive and legally binding climate agreement to come into effect from 2020. The noble Lord also mentioned our relationship with the US. He is aware that the United Kingdom has bilateral relationships with many countries, particularly in the north Atlantic. Our relationship with the United States is crucial and we will be having ongoing discussions with it and with other partner countries.

Lord Trimble:My Lords, in the context of the United States, would the Minister consider that the US has greatly reduced its carbon emissions in the past year by reducing its dependence on coal plants through the development of shale gas?

Baroness Verma:Yes, my Lords; the noble Lord is right that the United States has reduced its carbon emissions and increased its production of shale gas. However, this country takes the view that we need to ensure that our energy supplies are a mix of renewables and traditional fossil-fuel based. Therefore, although we are looking at shale gas, it will be part of a mix of energy rather than our having a dependency on it.

Lord May of Oxford:My Lords, is the Minister aware that the cost of the actions that we should be energetically taking against climate change—the need for which is underlined by the faster than previously expected melting of Arctic ice—is significantly smaller than the discounted present value of the much more difficult actions that we will be faced with in future if we do not act? I declare an interest as a member of the Committee on Climate Change.

Baroness Verma:The noble Lord is of course right that we need to take action. I am pleased to say that this Government are taking action and working very hard with all partner countries to ensure that this global issue is tackled with a global response.

Viscount Hanworth:My Lords—

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally):My Lords, there is time for both sides. Perhaps we can hear first from the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth.

Viscount Hanworth:My Lords, an example of extreme folly is the manner in which we are allowing petroleum companies to pursue the exploration of oil and gas in the Arctic as the reduction of ice cover renders this more practical. Can the Minister tell us what steps, if any, the Government are taking to restrain such activities?

Baroness Verma:My Lords, the fact of the matter is that we will need supplies of oil for the near future. Although we work very hard with our partner countries to ensure that everything is done in an environmentally safe way and with consideration to the environment and locations, we cannot dictate to the Arctic states or to the Arctic Council how they progress with their drilling. However, we know that they take the issue very seriously and are very environmentally effective when it comes to the security and safety of how they drill.

Baroness Parminter:What global greenhouse-gas emissions stabilisation levels do the Government believe will be necessary to protect Arctic summer sea ice for the remainder of this century? In asking this question I also congratulate the Government on the launch today of the Green Deal, which will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from British homes.

Baroness Verma:My Lords, I thank my noble friend for mentioning the Green Deal, which will of course help very much in how we respond individually to a very serious issue. Greenhouse gases are the key cause of climate warming. We have invested heavily in research to ensure that, working with Defra, we have many ways of responding to the climate change which is happening around us and to ensure that other countries are working with us in that response.

Lord Harris of Haringey:In the past 60 years more than half of the ice in the Arctic has disappeared. That opens up the prospect of the north-west passage—which we all remember from our history books in childhood—becoming a reality. This has enormous strategic implications not only in the movement of goods but in extra exploration for both oil and other minerals. How do the Government see the United Kingdom’s strategic interests, and are they pursuing those through their associate membership of the Arctic Council?

Baroness Verma:My Lords, the noble Lord is right to raise that issue. Although we are not a member of the Arctic Council or an Arctic state, we have been invited in as observers and we are able to have a very constructive dialogue with those Arctic states and with other observer states as well.

Baroness Worthington:My Lords, the Arctic is experiencing rapid change due to the impact of man-made global warming. In recognition of the unique and fragile nature of this region, Greenpeace is calling for the establishment of a global Arctic sanctuary. The Environmental Audit Committee also recommended that a sanctuary be established in its report, Protecting the Arctic. Can the Minister please inform the House what actions the Government are taking to secure a marine protected area in the Arctic and what assessment they have made of the risks, both economic and environmental, of allowing oil extraction in the area?

Baroness Verma:My Lords, as I think I have said in answer to a number of the questions put to me today, we have to work very closely with the Arctic states and the Arctic Council. However, I recognise the noble Baroness’s point about the depletion of marine life. If she will allow me, I will make sure that she receives a much fuller answer, given that this is quite a serious issue that needs to be tackled.”

Thursday
Jan 17,2013

As Boris Johnson prepares to use the platform of the London Government dinner at the Mansion House tonight to try and upstage David Cameron’s long-awaited speech on Europe tomorrow, unsubstantiated gossip reaches me that the Mayor is moving to reward another of those associated with the Evening Standard’s campaign in 2008 to unseat Ken Livingstone and as a result help him to win the election as London Mayor.

Veronica Wadley (then the Standard’s editor) is now the Mayor’s (paid)appointee as chair of the London Arts Council.

A little bird tells me that now the Mayor is poised to appoint Andrew Gilligan (then the Evening Standard journalist who wrote some of the articles in the Standard most damaging to Ken Livingstone) as his new (paid) advisor on cycling in London.

Interesting, if true…..

I have now had it confirmed.

Tuesday
Jan 15,2013

A few hours after I posted about the “explosive” purchasing of the UK’s critical national infrastructure by the Chinese, there was a series of exchanges about the privatised water companies during Question Time in the House of Lords:

Lord Bradshaw:

Does my noble friend believe that the people who privatised our utilities expected that within 10 years they would be in the hands not only of foreign administrations and foreign countries but actually of the Governments of those countries? We have denationalised here and renationalised from abroad. Surely the regulator should get a lot tougher on these people who are making absolute fools of people who have to subscribe increasing sums to the maintenance of essential services.

Lord De Mauley:

My noble friend makes a fair point, my Lords, but we believe in free capital markets.

Lord Harris of Haringey:

My Lords, does the answer to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, mean that the Government are indifferent to the extent of foreign ownership of our critical national infrastructure? Are they indifferent to the possible implications of that?

Lord De Mauley:

No, my Lords, we are not indifferent; we take these things very seriously. As I say, however, we believe in free access to our capital markets.

So now we know.  The Government takes these matters very seriously, just so long as the national interest doesn’t get in the way of the free market.

Thursday
Apr 26,2012

I have written a short piece for the Labour Lords website.

You can read it here, but the text is as follows:

London elects its Mayor in one week’s time.  The choice is a simple one.  Do Londoners want someone who cares about (and will do something about) the issues that affect them, such as rocketing transport fares, falling police numbers and poor prospects for young people? Or do they want a Mayor who is more pre-occupied with costly vanity projects and using the Mayoralty as a platform to gain the Leadership of the Conservative Party?

The brilliant Labour election broadcast was attacked by the Tories for being “scripted” (since when was an election broadcast not scripted?) and (wrongly) of having used actors.  The attacks were typical of a Conservative campaign that has sought to keep away from any proper policy debate or focus on what directly affects Londoners.

Indeed, what is interesting about the Tory campaign is what they do NOT talk about.  Their candidate’s manifesto barely mentions the word “Conservative” – relegating it to the published and promoted by small print at the end of the page.  But more significant is the failure to mention childcare or child poverty, the different faith communities that make up London, or LGBT Londoners.  And black Londoners are only mentioned in the context of crime.  The manifesto itself is light on policy and says little about what Boris Johnson would do in a second term in office.

By contrast, Ken Livingstone’s manifesto makes a series of striking pledges that match the concerns of Londoners.  Ken has committed to cut fares – saving the average fare-payer £1,000 over four years; crack down on crime by reversing the Tory Mayor’s police cuts; and help reduce rents with non-profit lettings agency for London. The Labour Mayoral campaign promises to provide free home insulation for those in fuel poverty and campaign to force the utility companies to cut heating bills; establish a London-wide Educational Maintenance Allowance of up to £30 per week to help young people stay in education; and support childcare with grants and interest-free loans.

Ken Livingstone has also promised to freeze both the Mayor’s share of Council Tax and the congestion charge for four years and to invest in improving transport services, build new homes and cut pollution.

On 3rd May, Londoners will also be electing twenty-five members of the London Assembly whose role is to hold the Mayor to account and to speak up for the interests of Londoners.   At present only eight of the seats on the Assembly are held by Labour (the Tories hold eleven with three LibDems, two Greens and one ex-BNP “other”).  With the Assembly being a mix of fourteen constituency seats and eleven more “additional members” elected to achieve proportionality, there is a real prospect of the balance shifting significantly.  Labour is hoping to gain Barnet and Camden where the incumbent Tory has made his name by making controversial statements and there are several other constituency seats being targeted.

With just one week to go and the public increasingly focusing on what sort of policies they want from London’s government, there is all to play for.

Sunday
Jan 22,2012

The Government’s e-petition site has rejected an e-petition calling on the Government to improve “the flow of passengers through busy London Underground stations” by installing slides in place of escalators.  The e-petition also suggests that:

“Small prizes should be available for those reaching the bottom in the fastest time. These would be paid for out of the savings of not having to maintain and operate down escalators.”

The e-petition has been rejected because this is a matter for a devolved authority – in this case the Mayor of London – and therefore it is for the Mayor of London to consider this proposal.

Tuesday
Jan 10,2012

According to this morning’s news reports a £500 million tunnel is to be built in the Parliamentary seat of Cheryl Gillan MP, the Secretary of State for Wales, to mitigate the impact of the High Speed Rail connection being proposed to run through her Amersham constituency and to try and avert her resignation from the Cabinet over the issue.

So now we know the starting price of a Cabinet seat in the Tory Party – £500 million.

But will it be enough to stave off her resignation?  And what else could that money have been spent on?

Monday
Jan 9,2012

This Thursday the last meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority will take place before it is abolished and replaced by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPC – pronounced “MOPSY”) on 16th January.

The meeting on Thursday is not being held in City Hall and is much more low-key than usual with no written report from the Commissioner and with most of the agenda given over to formal reports winding up the remaining aspects of the MPA’s business.

There is, however, an item grandly-entitled “MPA Retrospective” which you might assume was intended to deal with what the MPA has achieved during its eleven and a half years of existence.

You might assume that, but you would be wrong.

In fact, the report only looks at the achievements “under the current administration” – i.e. since Mayor Boris Johnson and his Deputy Kit Malthouse AM got their hands on the tiller - so it is a record of the three and a bit years when the MPA was Tory-led and ignores the previous eight when its was Labour-led.

I am trying to establish whether this is simply an attempt to save paper (clearly a report that looked at what has been achieved since July 2000 when the MPA took office would be a good bit longer).  I am assured that a “there will be a full retrospective on the website”.  However, it is not there yet and the MPA website will be archived after this coming weekend, so that’s not much help…

Only an extreme cynic would suggest that this is yet another effort by parts of the GLA family to promote the record (sic) in office of a Tory Mayor in advance of the elections next May …..

Interestingly, one claim rather confirms the view that the Conservative tenure has provoked an unusually – and possibly unhealthily -high turnover of senior police officers at New Scotland Yard:

“20. The Authority has, since April 2008, appointed three Deputy Commissioners, 12 Assistant Commissioners, 23 Deputy Assistant Commissioners, and 63 Commanders. The Authority has made recommendations to the Home Secretary on the appointment of three Commissioners.”

 Apparently, that counts as an achievement …..
Monday
Jan 2,2012

Michael White, the Guardian’s veteran Assistant Editor, has an article today assessing the shape of UK politics over the year ahead.  Although sometimes verbose (a problem I am well aware that I suffer from myself), he is usually extremely perceptive.  Today’s article is therefore well worth reading and I agree with many of his conclusions.

However, there is one line in it that is total nonsense.  After pointing out the threat that reinvigorated Boris Johnson would present to David Cameron if re-elected to the London Mayorality in May, he goes on to say:

“If Ken beats Boris he will make Miliband’s task harder.”

The reality is the exact opposite.  So much so that David Cameron has recognised that his number one priority in 2012 is to ensure that London’s City Hall must remain in Conservative hands.  Not the economy; not the growing housing crisis; not Europe and the Eurozone; but London.  That is the Prime Minister’s priority for the coming year.

Why?  He knows that a Ken Livingstone victory in May would be an essential first step for the Labour Party to win a General Election in 2015.

He also knows that Ken Livingstone’s flair for articulating the impact of Tory policies on the people of London would resonate with millions elsewhere in the country.

The Prime Minister’s grasp on history is probably a little shaky, so he may not be aware that a Labour-run London County Council in the 1930s laid the groundwork for the victorious and reforming Labour Government of 1945: trialling and showcasing how the power of Government can be harnessed to boost the chances of the vast majority of the population.

However, Cameron’s instincts will tell him that a Labour Mayor in City Hall would demonstrate that there  is an alternative to a Conservative-led Government more concerned with the interests of a privileged minority than the rest of society.  (A Conservative trait also shown by Mayor Johnson and his penchant for meeting bankers and representatives of the financial services in preference to other interests in London.)

So if Cameron is so desperate for Ken Livingstone not to be elected in May, it follows that Ed Miliband is, if anything, even keener to see the Conservatives turned out of City Hall in four months time.  This is where Michael White is wrong and dwelling in a 1980s past.  Ken Livingstone has more positive and supportive relations with the national Labour leadership than ever before.

A Livingstone victory will be a boost for Ed Miliband and the Labour Party.  It will be a sign that the people of London have rejected not only a Conservative Mayor but also those Conservative policies being pursued by his friends holding national office.