It is time for the Government to step up a gear

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The Independent Online

The Government is keen to talk about its five-year plans for transforming schools and hospitals, but it is worth remembering when we last heard policy framed in such Stalinesque terms. In the summer of 2000, John Prescott unveiled a grand 10-year plan for transport which would "get Britain moving". Four years later, the deputy Prime Minister is mercifully no longer in charge of transport, but Britain is still stuck in neutral.

The Government is keen to talk about its five-year plans for transforming schools and hospitals, but it is worth remembering when we last heard policy framed in such Stalinesque terms. In the summer of 2000, John Prescott unveiled a grand 10-year plan for transport which would "get Britain moving". Four years later, the deputy Prime Minister is mercifully no longer in charge of transport, but Britain is still stuck in neutral.

Yesterday, the Transport Secretary Alistair Darling presented his latest proposals to Parliament. These included a new toll road between Birmingham and Manchester and the introduction of "car-pooling" schemes. There is nothing wrong with these proposals in themselves: encouraging people to share cars has been successful in other countries, and the existing M6 toll road has helped reduce congestion, although one wonders at the need to pave over more of the countryside. But the lack of ambition is deplorable.

It is all the more surprising given the disgraceful state of the British transport system. As well as losing the economy billions every year, our decrepit road and rail network is likely to cost us the chance of hosting the 2012 Olympics. Yet a project like the London Crossrail project, which has been waiting more than a decade for the go-ahead, could be postponed yet again for want of cash despite widespread agreement that it is sorely needed. And, needless to say, we hear little these days about getting people out of cars and onto the railways, buses and bicycles.

Ken Livingstone, who unveiled his own transport plans yesterday, has shown that, with enough determination, politicians can make a difference, however minor. The London mayor's introduction of the congestion charge and heavy investment in buses has made travelling in the capital slightly easier. If only ministers showed such decisiveness on this issue.

Seven years into a Labour Government that promised to salvage public services, the transport system remains a mess. There has been too much rhetoric, too little action. The harsh truth is that it will take more than some consultations on a new toll road and car-pooling experiments to get Britain moving again.

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