The boss of high street retailer Next, Lord Simon Wolfson, has stumped up a £250,000 prize to whoever proposes the most innovative transport idea. The winning suggestion will be announced at next year’s Wolfson Economics Prize.
The Wolfson Economics Prize has run twice in the past, addressing garden cities in 2014 and the euro in 2012. Wolfson has sponsored the award for since 2014.
Wolfson is searching for ideas which will make travel cheaper and cleaner without levying further charges on motorists.
The 2017 award will be judged by a panel, including Alistair Darling (former chancellor of the exchequer), Isabel Dedring (former London deputy mayor for transport) and Bridget Rosewell (former chief economist to Greater London Authority).
Crumbling Roads and Sardine Trains
Wolfson claims that, as a nation, Britain has chronically underinvested in its transport infrastructure. Roads are left to crumble, trains are pushed to breaking point and public transport contracts are flogged off to the highest bidder.
A key problem is that of the £30bn collected from fuel and vehicle taxes, only £9bn is reinvested in roads. Add to that a long-term decline in taxes destined for infrastructure and the situation looks bleak.
Wolfson is personally in favour of a system that links road usage to taxes, which, he claims, will produce a fairer system. He said:
“If you can create a connection between the revenue and the investment, then investment today can be justified based on the future revenue it generates, and at the moment that connection is broken.”
However, the Wolfson Economics Prize will hear suggestions of all sorts, sizes and focuses.
Small Scale Revolution
A key criticism of Wolfson centres on the Government’s traditional approach to infrastructure investment, which prefers to invest in singular large-scale projects at the expense of numerous smaller ones. This ultimately produces a smaller economic impact.
For example, High Speed 2 (HS2) is set to cost £42.6bn, pushing the cost per kilometre to more than ten times that of our global counterparts. Where France spends just £7.3m per kilometre, the UK spends a jaw-dropping £78.53m. Something is obviously wrong.
STOP HS2 campaign manager, Joe Rukin, described the project as “abysmal value for money” and “the most expensive railway in the history of the world”.
Like Wolfson, Rukin suggested that colossal projects like HS2 suck up budgets and force out other more deserving smaller options. Wolfson said:
“This focus on quantity rather than quality has led to too many very expensive, grandiose projects with a very long lead time, at the expense of small projects that can tackle everyday problems and benefit our economy in short measure.”
Do You Have an Idea?
If you have a great idea to fix the nation’s infrastructure, you best get writing! The deadline for submissions is Thursday 2nd March 2017 with the shortlist announced in April. The prize will be awarded at a ceremony in July.
For more information on how to apply, visit Policy Exchange’s website.