Scotland the Blog: A cracked bridge and packed trains cramp Scotland’s Skilled Future

I have been watching the latest Scandi Noir "The Bridge" with its brilliantly believable human characters. Saga Noren the high functioning Asperger detective is one of the best characters in TV. The bridge in question is the Oresund crossing a ten mile long critical artery connecting Sweden and Denmark. The Bridge is the subject of some dispute as Sweden wishes to close it in response to the migrant crisis and for very understandable national security reasons.

This makes me think of some  issue relevant to Scotland. Our fifty-something arterial bridge, the Forth Road is affected by cracks and has been closed for safety reasons. A bottleneck will slowly commerce between Fife, the South and West. Our already rammed railway network will come under further pressure with services withdrawn from routes elsewhere in Scotland including those already packed to the gunnels.  It’s also impacting business and jobs, investment attracted to the Fife region by excellent transport links looks less certain. Hopefully this is short term and fixable.

The Forth bridge issue was some believe a foreseeable failure which would have been repaired seven years ago at a cost of £5-10 million, The Scottish government underspent close to half a billion both this year and last.  Estimates are that a closed bridge could cost Scotland £1.5 bn. a year. Or approximately £125 million a month. Some economists believe that the removal of tolls has impacted the repair cycle of the bridge.

The flooding affecting the borders and our dear friends to the South in Cumbria is another infrastructure headache.  Probably the merciless satirical website The Daily Mash nailed it with ‘Britain to think about Strengthening Flood Defences if it rains Again Next Year’. Obviously there are some unpredictable floods but could we have planned better. Planning and investment are a big part of the rail scene as well. ”I travelled on the creaking Scottish sleeper to Edinburgh recently only to be told casually on the night it wasn’t going there. As an apprentice train driver I remember when the new sleeper trains came in in 1984, now they won’t be replaced till earliest 2017. Meanwhile the old stock limps on.

Air connections are another issue.  An additional south east runway which will help Scotland connect more to international markets has been put into the long grass till after the London mayoral election. If ever there was an example of politicians taking a short term perspective this is it. I declare an interest when at BALPA I was national union representative on the lobby group to secure extra capacity under the last but one government. Nimbyism and often outdated complaints about noise hold back airport growth when the real issue is road vehicle pollution caused by the congestion of our gummed up terminals. These are issues which need to to be tackled across the UK. Otherwise regions like Scotland and Northern Ireland will lose out.

The other issue for Scotland is that our construction and civil engineering industry is well placed to benefit from the global mega investment in infrastructure.  We need to build and  maintain assets which help people move and settle here and everywhere. In the end this is as crucial to productivity as getting people to produce more.

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