Promising that Ministers will, where possible, take public transport (see DC says no to ministerial transport) like anyone else is a fine nod at the “we need to cut back and we’ll start at the top” ideal. Yet is it the most productive way to run a Government?
The time versus money productivity equation
I’ve been thinking about this, as there are some analogies to my own life. I’m always hugely busy, typically work a 60-70 hour week (see a typical day or min-by-min day blogs, and virtually every minute of my working life is focused on working, there’s no downtime.
Thus when I travel around – for television the phone isn’t good enough, you need be there – I focus on the quickest form of transport I can (or for longer journeys, one were I can work while I travel).
In fact often I have an agreement with the people I work for that they’ll get me a taxi-motorbike (see motorbikes blog on the first time I did it). This is far from the cheapest option (though I admit usually I’m not paying), but it is the quickest, meaning I have more working time, which financially out-balances the extra transport cost.
Ministers need to work hard right now
Yet while I work hard, I’d quite like our nation’s Ministers to work even harder; there’s certainly a big enough job to do with cutting the budget deficit. The idea of the Prime Minister stuck in a London traffic jam when he’s supposed to be working appalls me, I want to shout:
“Get back to your desk, you’ve a country to run!”
In cash terms the actual amount saved by the 30 or so cabinet members using public transport is a negligible percent of a negligible percent of Government spending. It’d be outbalanced 1,000 times over and more by one good decision on military purchasing, or NHS drugs – and I’d prefer them to spend more time meeting people and making decisions.
There are of course some arguments for public transport. There’s the ‘they should live in the real world and feel the goods and bads of traffic jams like everyone else’ argument, so the odd PR tube or bus journey stunt is fine – and certainly long distances are better on the train as it’s far quicker than a car. Of course they can always travel like that when they’re on their own time too.
Then there’s the environmental issue, yet most ministerial cars are hybrids, so that’s lessened somewhat.
Overall though I think I’m hedging to the view that we’d probably be better off if the Government relaxed on the gesture politics and focused on getting the nation back in shape.