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Time to start delivering

Whoever wins today's General Election will come under heavy pressure from business to deliver the promise of the government's 10 year transport plan.

Confederation of British Industry director general Digby Jones explains to Antony Oliver.

Delivery, delivery and delivery of better transport are the three clear priorities to be tackled by the next government, according to Digby Jones, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry.

'There is not a bigger issue that I hear mentioned by every business, of every size and every sector in all parts of the United Kingdom, ' he says. 'We need to spend the money now.

'Business needs to get goods to market and people to work.

This government has allotted £180bn over a 10 year period - a big victory for the CBI as we lobbied hard for it. Now the big challenge is to spend it.'

If, as is widely expected, Tony Blair's Labour Party returns to government for five years, business will be looking for some real reward for its support in the shape of transport infrastructure investment.

The fact is that the blueprint for what must be done has been set out, consulted and reviewed over the last four years - it must now be delivered to really help businesses become more competitive.

Jones sees transport spending as vital for business and has been lobbying the Conservatives hard to get them to match Labour's £180bn transport spending pledge, so there is no disagreement over the scale of investment during the next government.

But he still recognises that the new government needs to find a way to remove obstacles to this spending - the biggest being local and central government planning systems.

'There is a mindset against planning, ' he explains. 'For example, it has taken six years for the planning inquiry for Heathrow Terminal Five and we are still not there. In this time Charles de Gaulle and Schipol airports have both built a runway and a terminal building - what does that do to UK competitiveness?'

'Wealth creation and social inclusion go together, ' says Jones. 'Both need a planning system that will stimulate investment in a region. Transport is at the top of that investment.'

Integrated transport is the ultimate solution that the UK must work towards, he says, but the issue now is to create a planning process which will allow solutions to be delivered and money spent.

'The only way that we will get people out of their cars and get freight off the road is if we have a good, clean, safe, reliable public transport system. It is proven that when you do it works, ' says Jones.

Politicians now understand that the public's love affair with the car is permanent, he maintains. 'It is not a war on the car but a war to get an integrated transport system. The car has a very important place in this.'

Central government, he says, needs to take a bigger lead in reforming the planning process in the name of developing decent public transport systems across the country - perhaps through a detailed but quick review. Manchester's public transport success did not come as a result of taxing people out of their cars, but through providing a decent alternative, he says.

To achieve this, Jones is adamant that once local government has had its say and set out a framework for its needs, central government must take the initiative to drive through its policy.

'It is going to be unpopular with local authorities, ' he warns.

Jones has strong views about the role of industry regulation in general and feels that the new government should have 'a good look at the role', particularly in rail. 'They (the regulators) have tended to be gods in their own kingdom and there is not enough accountability. Management has often been handcuffed.'

There is still a huge appetite for private investment in the railways and in transport in general, explains Jones. But he stresses that there is no single model for financing transport projects and that private cash must also be backed by government cash.

Plans to ease congestion in cities using congestion charging have Jones' backing, although he is keen to point out that ' no one model fits all'. He also stops short of supporting workplace parking charges, which he claims would be destructive to business.

'Workplace parking charges are one of the biggest disincentives to investment by business in a city. It is going to be used as a fund raiser and not as a change of behaviour tool, ' says Jones.

But whatever tools are used, be they tax on fuel, congestion charges, workplace parking fees or road tax, Jones want to see the cash being more directly hypothecated back into transport infrastructure.

He reiterates his three priorities for any party seeking the business vote by paraphrasing Tony Blair on education in the last election campaign: 'Delivery, delivery and delivery' on transport.

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