The first morning of day two of the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham and things are running behind schedule. Still, at least things are happening at all and Brum’s public transport system is still going strong. The same can’t be said of London - commiserations to you all back in the Big Smoke.
If it makes you feel any better, a TFL representative up here at the conference has just informed the attendees at the London Transport’s upgrade fringe session that London has not ground to a halt and that, actually, there is not as much disruption as anticipated. Comfort I am sure to everyone who spent hours battling in to work through the wind and rain this morning.
So, the programme here is running behind with George Osborne taking to the main stage later than expected just before 12:30 today. He managed to raise a laugh pretty promptly though. “I have good news and bad news,” he said. “The good news is that we have made it into government after years of a disastrous Labour administration that has brought our country to the brink of bankruptcy. The bad news? Is that we have made it to government after years of a disastrous Labour administration that has brought our country to the brink of bankruptcy.”
His speech today, as expected, didn’t reveal anything earth shattering ahead of the CSR on October 20th. He touched on his thoughts on the coalition government, praising Nick Clegg for making the “right” decision rather than the “easy” one. And, no surprises here, he emphasised how delaying cuts, however tough they may be would only make the fiscal situation worse saying that the UK’s £109bn structural deficit needed to be tackled in the same way as a credit card. “The longer you leave it, the worse it gets.” he said. “And you pay interest and then interest on the interest. We pay £120m every single day in interest on the UK’s structural deficit.”
He went on to defend his protection of the NHS budget from spending cuts and praised Michael Gove’s Free Schools idea - though didn’t touch on any of the issues surrounding this controversial scheme that have been covered in the national and trade press in recent months.
All in all, a pretty general overview. Interesting, certainly. But nothing much which will specifically impact on the construction industry.
TFL’s fringe session on London’s Transport Upgrade was next on the agenda though Peter Hendy had to be excused by Sir Simon Milton as he is down in London trying to sort out the tube strike. His TLF replacement insisted that, in terms of driving forward with the growth of London’s transport system, TFL are doing everything they can to cut costs: “We are cutting down on everything,” he said. “Stationary, business cards. we have banned sandwiches from board meetings too.” All very worthy but it’s going to take a hell of a lot of bread, butter and biros to make a significant cost saving impact. Still, every little helps.
In terms of projects going forward, Simon Milton, speaking on behalf of mayor Boris Johnson said that his focus would firmly be on pushing ahead with Crossrail and the upgrade of the tube, adding that growing London’s transport infrastructure by 30% will be vital to support to extra 1 million Londoners expected to descend on the City in the coming years.
In terms of the all important funding, apart from all that money saved in sarnies, the minister of state for transport, Theresa Villiers said: “We need to look at the overall life span of every project from design through to construction and operation to see if we can get more for less at every stage. We need to drive down costs. In an era where there is such a huge budget deficit to address, we can’t afford to sit back at any stage.”
On exactly where these cost savings will come, Villiers wouldn’t really comment. She said it was difficult to say much ahead of the CSR but added the government was not “proposing to make shirt term cost decisions that would end up being more costly in the end.” She said: “We want longer term thinking and we want to look at getting best value for money throughout the whole life of the project.”
One thing that must be said of this session is that it not only finished on time, but early. “I would like to draw everyone’s attention to the fact that this meeting has ended early,” said Milton. “In line with the new TFL project management system.”