CBI anger at Tory transport policy failure

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The Independent Online

Transport Correspondent

Business people are deeply "frustrated" and "angry" at the Government's failure to produce a transport policy, Adair Turner, director general of the CBI said yesterday.

Speaking at a lunch with transport experts at the CBI headquarters, he launched a fierce attack on the Government's failure to produce any response to the transport debate it launched 18 months ago. Mr Turner said: "There is deep frustration among business people that the Government has failed to produce any transport policy. Business confidence in the Government's resolve to develop a competitive and sustainable transport network in the UK is at a low ebb."

The sharpness of the attack will surprise ministers especially coming from one of its allies but it shows the depth of anger among business leaders over what they see as ministers failure to face "hard choices". Mr Turner said that while it was "all very well" to stimulate a debate on transport, it had started 18 months ago and the "past 15 months have been wasted". "Any further paralysis by analysis will simply not do."

The Independent revealed earlier this week that the Government's response to the transport debate is likely to be published early next month but will eschew any "grand solutions" to transport problems. It will also fail to satisfy environmentalists' demand for strict targets to reduce traffic growth.

Mr Turner said it was the Government's business to make hard choices. However, the transport debate had become overlaid with "a desire to reduce public expenditure for its own sake" which meant that it the Government had avoided developing a transport strategy.

Business leaders are beginning to accept that the infrastructure cannot be expected to accommodate all of this growth and therefore are looking at ways of breaking this link. They are sensitive to criticisms that goods are being transported all round the country when they could be sourced more locally but currently, despite annual price rises above the rate of inflation, fuel remains cheaper in real terms than in the oil crisis of the 1970s.

The CBI has moved away from its past emphasis on purely road-based solutions to the transport crisis in favour of encouraging public transport and other more environmentally friendly modes such as walking and cycling. Robert Napier, chief executive of Redland, the building supplies group, and chairman of the CBI's transport committee, said: "We accept that we can't build eight-lane motorways in England's green and pleasant valleys. But it may be necessary to build the motorways underneath them sometimes, even if this costs more."

The CBI is also angered that the Government's response to the transport debate will ignore calls for a reform of the road taxation system . Mr Turner accepted that road pricing was not popular but said that a distinction should be made between road charging - for the cost of wear and tear - and taxation.

Mr Napier said that the CBI was currently working on an estimate of how much needed to be spent annually on transport infrastructure in order to keep Britain moving: "We feel that around pounds 9bn per year needs to be spent on transport investment, about pounds 2bn more than at present."

He added: "This weekend's Bank Holiday traffic will highlight once again the historic failure of UK transport policy."