© John Yellowlees, 2011
The recent recession had been the worst since the 1930s, resulting in a 6% loss in GDP which was on a scale that Britain had not experienced at the end of World War Two or the 1973 oil-price shock or the bust at the end of the 1980s boom.
The public finances were in a shocking mess, and this year the UK Government would borrow £150bn, having to repay £40bn interest on cumulative deficit which had to be dealt with quickly - £40-50bn was cyclical so should disappear with the revival of demand, but the rest was structural. CBI believed that along with investment in skills, education and planning, transport infrastructure should be a top priority and were saying to the UK and Scottish Government that spend in this area must be maintained.
London was the gateway to the UK, so CBI continued to support a third runway at Heathrow and had told the Secretary of State that without it he had no aviation strategy. They wanted to see Thameslink and Crossrail delivered for London, and believed that traffic must be kept free-flowing on the road network while being concerned to ensure that foreign lorries paid an equitable share of taxation.
For Scotland a paper signed off in May 2010 set as priorities the M74 northern extension and completing the M8 - they had doubts as to whether the Airdrie-Bathgate railway would reduce traffic on the M8, but were not calling for its widening at this stage. There was no other solution than the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route to the relief of nightmare queuing in that city, and the real pity of the Forth Replacement Crossing was that the engineers could not fix the existing bridge, since how many lanes were really needed into Fife.
The A9 upgrade was very important, and CBI supported extension of the dual carriageway initially to Pitlochry, and an improved A75 was needed since Ireland was Britain's greatest trading partner. Grangemouth also needed better links to its port.
The current HS2 consultation was very difficult for the UK Government, and once its extension was under way towards Manchester a commitment would be sought from the Scottish Government. The need for a new line was shown by the continuing capacity issues on the West and East Coast Main Lines despite Trent Valley four-tracking. CBI strongly endorsed EGIP since E&G electrification should have been done a long time ago, and had made clear to Labour leader the importance of including Dunblane as a stepping-stone towards Aberdeen.
CBI also supported Glasgow Crossrail, recognising that the Conservatives would be unlikely to support reinstatement of the Glasgow Airport Rail Link without such through running across Glasgow since otherwise the Airport might be as well served by a light rail link to Paisley Gilmour Street. Train services to Aberdeen and Inverness needed to be speeded up. CBI had sought neither the Edinburgh Tram nor the Borders Railway, and while the latter was probably now too late to stop, had Iain been a Borders resident he might have preferred road improvements.
On air, Iain was unsure why provincial airports in the USA were able to support so many more direct flights to long-distance destinations than our own, and since we ought not to be relying on connections via European airports he had been glad to be told that there were solutions to the problem of making an air routes development fund EU-compatible. The loss of the Rosyth-Zeebrugge passenger ferry had sadly been a case of "use it or lose it".
CBI's role was to represent its members, and it sought to draw in expertise where this was lacking in its organisation so as to ensure that its views were properly representative.
Report by John Yellowlees
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