We Must Grasp a New Way of Working Out of Coronavirus – Herald May 1, 2020
We are undoubtedly living in very serious times, but one of the silver linings to this very dark cloud is that it could create the creative space needed for a complete reboot of how our economy and society is structured. Modern life for most working people is all consuming due to its rapid speed. Trying to juggle work pressure and family expectations is a huge challenge in itself. It is very difficult to imagine let alone create a different way of doing things.
This week in the new virtual Westminster world I tabled a parliamentary motion which I hope could stimulate a wider debate. At the recent Budget the British Government announced a £28bn road building programme. This investment is being driven by modelling on likely road traffic forecasts. The last major piece of work undertaken by the British Government was Road Traffic Forecast (RTF) 2018. It indicated that Road Traffic could grow by up to 51% by 2050. Furthermore, most of the growth is expected in already largely congested areas meaning that the investment is directed towards already high performing economic areas of the British State. The same is the case in Wales where our Labour Government priorities the vast allocation of investment to the Cardiff-Newport corridor.
This concentration of investment has hugely negative consequences in several areas. Firstly, it polarises geographic economic wealth. In many ways, the history of transport investment in the UK has been one of pouring money into a black hole. Each investment increasing demand leading to the need for more investment.
At a Welsh level the Cardiff first policy means that community planning development even as far west here in Carmarthenshire is based on large housing development operating as commuter communities to deal with the overspill from large urban centres – and critically offering relatively cheaper homes. Workers today are travelling longer and longer distances to their workplace. The average commute in the UK now is set at 10 hours a week. To put in context a whole working day per week is lost in travelling.
Such wasted time obviously has severe consequences for work-life balances. Tired and stressed out workers obviously undermines family life with all the negative consequences that ranging from mental and physical health issues, domestic violence and adult support for child development.
Lastly of course is the enormous contribution of transport emissions to the environment. Transport in the UK accounts for 20% of the emissions – and therefore reducing traffic pollution is inevitably going to be a vital part of the strategy to reach climate change targets.
The pandemic has opened up the possibility of a new way of working. Many of us will have become completely accustomed, and seamlessly changed, our way of working to being homebased. Whole Office structures are essentially working from home and are communicating via instant messaging services and skype and zoom virtual meetings. With the appropriate equipment and critically the infrastructure to enable the technology, colleagues hundreds of miles away are effectively in the same room.
There will always be a need for some new roads. The Llandeilo by-pass comes to mind due to the pollution levels in the town. We will also need to maintain the existing network.
However, the British Governments investment in broadband is only a sixth of its commitment to road building. A brave new world is possible that will help geographically level up wealth; improve work life balance; aid community development especially for small imagination and the re-allocation of resources.