Immediately after Covid, we must not go back to the deadly urban pollution that lockdown had given us a reprieve from. Fortunately, refusing to do so may be our path to economic recovery.
This is the first in a series of articles on how the UK can recover post-covid.
When Covid ends, there will be a general trend to gradually return to past patterns of behaviour. Many people will resume their expensive commutes to their regular day jobs, albeit newly confident that working from home and video conferencing is practical sometimes.
They will be the lucky people, however. Millions of us will not be able to go back to normal. Our jobs will be gone. Our small businesses will be dead. Our clients will be too cash strapped to contract us. This will leave the economy in the doldrums for years. Worse still, it will destitute millions of people.
So economic stimulus will be needed. And it should start with green transport.
Car Scrappage – Electric Vehicles
During the financial collapse in 2008, Germany supported its motor industry with a very successful car scrappage scheme. At the end of the Covid nightmare, the UK should learn from this proven stimulus but with a more strategic focus.
A car scrappage scheme that applies to the buying of electric vehicles would boost consumer spend and economic activity among those able to afford a new car.
This would also boost motor manufacturing prospects in the UK. By getting ahead with a strong consumer demand for electric vehicles now, we would boost the likelihood that motor manufacturers choose to convert their UK plants for the electric era – rather than mothball them over time as plants abroad upgrade instead.
So this would be a short term economic kick-start that also encourages investment in long term jobs and technology. Best of all, it would also help keep urban air breathable.
Busses and Charging Stations
Consumers are one aspect to kick-starting the economy. The other is government investment.
The UK has already committed to eliminating petrol cars in the decades ahead. Economic collapse makes this the time to create the infrastructure needed – employing thousands at the best possible moment.
At present, the UK is way behind on road infrastructure. It has just one fast charging station (in Sunderland) for electric vehicles. Funding such installations at supermarket car parks and current petrol stations would ramp up economic activity and open up electric cars to urban families that often have to park on street.
The same charging investment should be applied to busses. In the UK most busses are sadly still largely petrol-driven despite never being far from depots where charging would be quick and easy.
Investing now to build fast charging stations across the country, building modern busses to replace old ones, and upgrading bus depots, would shift the country towards its long term strategic (electric vehicle) destination while boosting the economy during its lowest ebb.
Behavioural Change – Cycling
A final environmental (clean air) direction reflects a notable behavioural change now underway. While much change has been forced upon us by lockdown, the apparent shift towards cycling is a good one.
As a regular cyclist commuter, one of the most notable things about lockdown has been the new cyclists on the roads whenever I’m dropping off supplies for the in-laws.
This may result from cleaner air, emptier roads, or the subtle messages that came with bike shops staying open as “essential” alongside the permitting of “exercise” during lockdown. Whatever the cause, encouraging this change to last could boost the economy too.
Government grants to businesses to install showers and bike-lockers to make cycling commutes more practical, and investment in cycle lanes and routes on local road networks, would help keep people cycling. It would also help boost jobs and economic activity by driving up business for building contractors of all sizes, just when it is needed most.