Pick up thy shovels and work

16 03 2009

Sometimes its the (relatively) little things that tell you the most. On the same weekend that the G20 finance ministers agreed not to agree on anything very much and put out the most anodyne of public statements as a result, I was driving to the seaside.  My journey took a while longer than it should have done because one of the main roads out of London,the A2, has been dug up causing traffic chaos though much of SE London. I have driven past these roadworks in the evenings and at weekends and have never seen a single person working.

We have a government which has committed itself to stimulating the economy through a programme of public investment. At the same time 100,000 construction workers have lost their jobs so far in the UK during this recession. We are told that  the problem with public works programmes is that they take a long time to get under way,or to become ‘shovel ready’.

So here’s an idea. Call in every local council leader and tell them that all the roadworks they have underway should be completed on a 24/7 basis and that they can suck up the unemployed construction workers to do the work. The only extra money this should cost councils is that night and weekend working might incur overtime. The government would pick up the bill for the overtime,which would be a tiny amount compared with what is going in to prop up the financial sector.  This approach could also apply to national government projects. This way all the ‘shovels’left lying by the side of the road could become’ready’very quickly.

The pluses: we would all experience a warm glow from seeing things get done faster and also experience in practical terms a sense of urgency from the government. More people would be in work. It would offset the disruption to peoples’ trading and leisure caused by the roadworks, as they would be finished quicker. From the point of view of the impact on the economy I cannot think of any negatives.

For something like this to happen the government would have to override any local objections to night or weekend working and any other bureaucratic obstacles put in the way. In other words it would require active and decisive leadership from the top. As I have argued elsewhere,the main problem we have today is ineffective leadership. So do not hold your breath that this or any other radical way of dealing with the crisis would even be attempted.

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4 responses

16 03 2009
CharlieMcMenamin

I suspect the road works weren’t the Council’s doing – at least if my bit of SE London, or the 5 mile/90 minute trip I took to Greenwich yesterday, are typical. It is mainly gas and water pipe renewal that’s going on. In any event the A2 and other trunk roads are generally the responsibility of Transport for London, not the local Council.

You might consider these pettifogging objections, to be solved with greater leadership. Perhaps: but, of course, controlling privatised industries is somewhat less straightforward than controlling things you actually own.

I would also question whether filling in roads is the best counter-cyclical priority anyway, all things considered. I have an alternative suggestion.http://itslifejimbutnotaswknowit.blogspot.com/2009/03/stores-from-my-youth-no-3291-goodbye.html

16 03 2009
Johny Morris

Although biblically it might be possible to turn swords into plough shears it’s not quite so easy to turn site carpenters into hardcore layers or plasters into trench diggers. And why should they want to make the transformation? Train for 4 years to get a useful skill then go on the shovel?

Wouldn’t mind seeing a few useless bankers working on the black stuff – but that’s a simple desire for retribution which I can’t dignify with any more noble sentiment.

And as for the control of private companies who dig up our streets – this has been a responsibility of local government since at least the New Roads and Street Works act (NRSWA) 1991.

Always did have more sympathy for the Bernard Cribins character at the bottom of the hole than the gadgey at the top.

Altogether now “There I was a diggin’ this hole…….”.

16 03 2009
CharlieMcMenamin

I understand it the New Roads and Street Works act (NRSWA) 1991 allows Councils to co-ordinate and monitor streetworks, but not to control the work. They can levy (fairly minimal) fines for late completion, but they don’t direct the work.

16 03 2009
James Heartfield

Or better still, get the construction workers to fill the short-fall in house-building that has been stored up for the last fifteen years
See ‘Who demolished the housing industry?’ for the details: http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php?/site/article/5463/

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