Volcanic eruptions and the election

The news that Lord Adonis and his colleagues are getting to grips with the effects of the Icelandic volcano is to be welcomed.

Less good is the entirely predictable announcement by the Conservatives of their “8-point plan to address the flight crisis”. Have they learnt nothing from the reaction to the TV debate last week?

If you want to look at the election issues resulting from this unprecedented event, you have to have a deeper analysis than cooking up an 8-point plan on a Sunday Morning. People expect a grown up approach not a silly press release designed to get a page lead in Monday’s Sun newspaper.

So what are the issues?

The volcano could have an impact, hopefully intermittent, for the next 2 years.

Aircraft have proved unable to deal with the immediate impact, how will the rest of the transport infrastructure cope over the next few years?

As Nick Clegg would say, I don’t have all the answers but how the political parties stand on infrastructure investment, public services, regulation and European Union are going to be key determinants of success.

We have a transport system built on the just-in-time, capital maximisation model that doesn’t seem to be able to cope with natural events. And all three political parties are looking to reduce public sector investment, the Tories dramatically so.

I would argue that the Tories lean public sector infrastructure philosophy, part of their post bureaucratic age narrative, is more prone to break down, when something unusual happens.

Pressure will be felt greater on companies with distribution, logistics, advisory services, product sourcing and production spread across continents in order to chase price gains. These companies are going to need a government that maintains, enhances and re-enforces transport networks.

The sort of company that would benefit from this approach is Marks and Spencer. They increasingly source their materials abroad and they require a reliable distribution network. As we have seen, their Chairman is rather vociferous when the government takes decisions to maintain a basic level of public sector investment. Governments sometimes have to take decisions that upset the narrow, short term interests of business leaders in order to protect the wider, long term interests of business leaders. That’s life.

Right now, there could be up to 1 million people in the wrong place 72 hours after the event. In some parts of Europe, public transport and public services looked close to breaking point. If this is going to be a regular event in future years, who do you want to deal with it?

There are always lessons to be learned. But history has already taught us a few. Strip back public services to the core and our quality of life suffers.

One final, completely partisan point. Thank heavens Lord Adonis is in charge and not the hapless Theresa Villiers.


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