The next time you stand on the Leas looking across at France, here is a disturbing fact you can keep in mind. In the French economy it takes about three working hours to generate £100 of income whereas here at home it takes us about three and a half hours. So across a typical working day, whilst you are tying up loose ends before you head for home, your French counterpart is already in his garden sipping an aperitif in the evening sunshine, having enjoyed a leisurely game of tennis. Sickening, isn’t it.
For years we have scoffed at their long lunches and short working week, but it turns out that they can get away with it, because they are more efficient. But how can this be. It is not that the typical French worker works harder, but that they are supported by much better infrastructure. Their road and rail networks are more efficient and their energy prices are often lower.
Over the last decade, Britain has put off critical decisions on investment in transport and energy infrastructure, and we can see that in Kent better than most people. At the weekend, I looked across Romney Marsh to the wind turbines at Little Cheyne Court. Some were turning, but about a third were not. Whatever your views on energy from wind, we would have to accept that this type of energy will be a relatively small proportion of the power we will need in the future. Investment in new build nuclear power stations at sites like Dungeness will be key to securing our energy supplies. Currently Dungeness B generates enough electricity to power half of Kent, but within ten years that supply will have been turned off. If we want to keep our lights on, we would have to look for new sources. Unless Government is prepared to support new energy generation plants this will probably mean piping in Russian gas, or buying electricity generated in French nuclear power stations.
We cannot afford to delay any longer and a commitment should be made to a new power station at Dungeness. With regards to transport infrastructure, we will next month experience the new high speed rail service in Folkestone, and I would support extending high speed rail across the country. But one of the biggest boosts that could be given to the local economy would be a permanent solution to Operation Stack and lorry related congestion, funded by a tax on the foreign hauliers who are currently using our roads without making any financial contribution to their upkeep. Again, we could be making progress with this, but Government has to be involved in delivering this solution. In addition to this we could look to use the Channel Tunnel to bring more freight by rail into the country. The Tunnel currently is operating at below 50% of its potential capacity.