Why is UK productivity so low compared to the continent?

Oxford Street bus jam circa 1953

THE EXPLANATION OF THE MULTI-DECADE LOW PRODUCTIVITY OF THE UK ECONOMY, NEVER MENTIONED BY ECONOMIC GURUS AND POLITICIANS, IS THE SIMPLE FACT THAT PEOPLE CANNOT MOVE AROUND OUR CITIES SWIFTLY, RELIABLY AND CHEAPLY DUE TO THE FOCUS PRIMARILY ON CAR AND BUS TRANSPORT WHICH FOR FUNDAMENTAL REASONS CANNOT DELIVER THE TRANSPORT ENJOYED BY OUR EUROPEAN COMPETITORS. Put simply, British roads in cities cannot be made large enough to cater for the numbers of cars trying to use them, nor places to park them because a line of traffic takes up 2.5 times more road space than a bus but 12 times as much road space as a tram carrying the same number of car passengers.

Furthermore, car drivers will not use buses but they will use trams.

image.png Anyone who listens to the flagship news programs on BBC Radio will hear repeatedly various experts bemoaning the lack of productivity of the UK compared to Europe and this has been a theme for forty years but I have never heard anyone give the real reason – comparably poor in city transport. Instead, we get a plethora of economic wheezes none of which have demonstrably had any effect and we continue to plunge into economic decline as a result. There is considerable research that shows that the key and fundamental reason for this is that British cities do not have the “large connected city effect” – that is the spur to economic activity caused by citizens to be able to swiftly move around and across the city reliably and cheaply. Research shows that this is simply because we rely on buses and cars to get people to work and this is expensive, slow, and unreliable and does not enable the workforce to move across the city rapidly, cheaply, and reliably. Most continental cities have complex and integrated networks off RAIL – either metro or tram and it is this which makes the key difference and this is because it enables local businesses to thrive, and more importantly big companies will not invest in a city if they cannot be assured of a large pool of workers who can get to work quickly cheaply and reliably. Roger Harrisson, the driving force behind the Nottingham tram, specifically stated this was the case for German firms who told him they would not invest in a city without a tram network. The light rail industry has failed in its campaigning to focus on this point and bringing it to the attention of journalists and in particular those on the BBC Radio 4 news programs, ie Today – at 6.00, World at One at 1300, and PM at 1700 where one continually hears politicians and other worthies such as the CBI etc complaining about our poor productivity but not pushing the obvious and fundamental reason – ie people cannot get to work quickly, cheaply, reliably and around the clock. Inly trams can do this. For some of the research see here:

This line of attack completely neutralizes the standard objection of ” we don’t have the money” or ” its too expensive” etc… The UK can borrow as much as it wants providing it is spent on infrastructure that generates a greater return than the cost of borrowing, which trams do. Furthermore, our borrowing costs will not rise if investors see that we are investing it in infrastructure, rather than simply giving Truss-style tax cuts for people to fritter away on expensive cars and flying around the world and other luxury goods in the deluded belief that this will somehow spur growth and productivity.

Edinburgh bus jam prior to the tram introduction