Huge gap between glamour billions and our millions
Phew. According to the Chancellor of the Exchequer we've turned the corner and prosperity is on the way back. Just as well really because there's a shopping list of massive spending proposals ready to sop up all our available cash.
Have a look at these:
Crossrail. That's the scheme currently under way in London, designed to link the different railway systems around the city. The 26 new miles of line will cost £16bn – or rather that's how much funding Crossrail has. Budget over-runs are traditionally picked up by the Treasury (us) as failing to complete the contract would be a national disaster. (£1bn, in case you were as confused as I was, is one thousand million pounds.)
High Speed 2. There's a hot little potato, coming in at – depending who you believe – £50bn or £70bn or more. Probably more. Some of us still remember how the budget for the London Olympics went from £3bn during the bidding straight to £9bn afterwards, although the organisers crowed that the games were delivered "within budget". Hah. Will it be worth it? Probably not.
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Boris Island. The promoters of London's third airport hate that name, but avoiding the use of a huge acreage of built-up home-counties land and bunging an airport in the river instead is gaining support. Cost estimate currently £50bn, based on – nothing at all really since they haven't even identified a site.
Nuclear Power Stations. No-one talks much about these, but our energy supplies will predictably soon run out without them. They are so horrendously expensive to build, run, maintain and dismantle that only EDF – which already runs several in France – will even look at the project, and no-one yet will venture the wildest estimate of what our electricity will cost when we once again depend on them. Food for thought while writing those incensed letters against wind-farms. Currently only Hinckley Point "C" has been approved, at a proposed cost of £14bn.
And welcome the newcomer, the Thames Tideway. I like to imagine how many focus meetings went into giving such a tranquil Turneresque name to what will basically be a stonking great sewer, draining London's increasing effluent flow before it rises to street level. Proposals have just been launched. At 16 miles long, 24ft in diameter and a minimum of 100ft below ground level its current stated tag is a tentative £4.7bn. Pardon me while I sneeze.
The generic name for such schemes is 'glamour projects'. There's a bullish pride in being able to command such royal sums and create huge and lasting monuments to your own wonderful administration, and not entirely unjustified. We live surrounded by equally grandiloquent works of the 19th century, when most of our lasting infrastructure – roads, railways, harbours, bridges, great buildings, sewers, canals, etc – was constructed. There are times and projects when the money has to be found and is found, to our ongoing benefit. Depending, of course, on where you live.
This Thursday our local community is invited to one of the 19th century's lesser buildings, St Johns Hall, to meet Cornwall Councillor Alex Folkes and his team from Finance and Resources. Mr Folkes, alas, won't be bringing news of a Cornish glamour project but will be inviting the public to make suggestions as to how to scrape another £24m from Cornwall's already scourged budget. It's a poisoned chalice for Mr Folkes who needs no lessons on local living standards, and for the rest of us has the dead air of inviting turkeys to choose their preferred slaughterhouse this Christmas. The only scraps of expenditure which may or may not come Cornwall's way are the £60m (£0.06bn) to relieve the Temple clog-up on Bodmin Moor and the £8m (£0.008bn) for the Penzance and Isles of Scilly harbours. For the rest it's cuts all the way, police, education, social services, toilets, the once contracted returns for our council tax contributions.
As the Chancellor loves to say: "Difficult decisions must be made." For some. Or as the PM likes to say: "We're all in this together." Or some of us are.
Just as the bedroom tax and universal credit scheme begin to bite at those less fortunate I was startled to see in a property paper last week a double page of Cornish waterside properties all for sale at over £1,000,000 apiece. Nice work. Ah dear me, as the folk-song goes, the world is ill-divided...