torsdag 29. august 2013

Norwegian General Election Looms but not in A Threatening Way

It is the Norwegian general election in a little over two weeks time, and I'd say that it is no thriller and most people are switching off the candidates debates.

One good thing is that the election is centered on the issues, and not really the failings of the current, two term regime. The issues are really only the things which government tickle now: roads, rail a little education, privatisation round the fringes of health care.

The fact is that the failed right wing government of the early naughties have left a worse legacy, of failed privatisations like the rail network maintenance, and in the after math of an ineffective government riddled with internal power struggle,  the Labour movement left to accelerate road building and address infrastructure for schools and hospitals.

Now the labour lead, green-red government will leave a lasting legacy- people may want better roads and a little less tax, but they are not prepared to work harder for it. The main topics on the lips of the opposition are all about MORE public spending, an anathema for the right wing in most EU countries and particularly England. More on roads in particular, and more to pensioners. Less to immigrants and less to assylum seekers - these are the current scape goat and easy target given the state has a duty of provision for them, and the usual comparison is to the mimimum pensioner- but who dares actually pay for people who were largely economically inactive through much of their lives ?

While on pensions then , the state pension fund aka the Oil Fund is one of the best managed fund portfolios in the world, managed by state appointed economists incidentally who show the caution and objectivity clearing lacking in most derivative  traders and fund managers in the period 2005 to 2008!

Labour here have a very conservative policy on the oil fund- and incidentally are legally constrained by national and international laws in how much can be spent on public projects. In effect it acts as a private bank in a PFI type of way. The more thatcherite Fremskritt party want to unlock this fund for infrastructural renewal, with the key being a dual carriage way from Oslo to Stavanger - a patchy set up so far. This of course with as few new toll stations as possible if not completely free. So basically a Keynsian policy but one in a country where road projects are by virtue of topology and labour costs, amongst the most expensive.

The right are not keen on rail or any talk of rail, and that is clearly because they made a pigs ear of privatisation. They monopolised the management and lost droves of skilled workers in the cut backs which followed. Subsequent funding has been squandered on an Oslo-centric management black hole of strategic analysis  planning and project management  without any budget to manage anything in particular. The company has soaked up hundreds of millions of euros into this money pit and into an artificial internal inflation as they compete for engineering skills with the oil industry and the continuing Oslo property boom.

Also road projects are a mess here: the E18 in particular- a garing gap right passed Oslos second (or third) Airport near Sandefjord, which is there due to quarrels amongst right wing ruled councils - the stretches south and west of this were way over budget and again, disjointed- the ones which came in on budget prove to have scimped on materials - road surface on the new route Grimstad to Kristiansand, and tunneling north of Sandefjord. Foriegn competitors have had their fingers burned off with the main contractor from Germany on the Grimstad west stretch going under due to penalties and outright law breaking from sub suppliers.

I sit an listen to Radio Scotland about the A9 ironically enough. The A9 is topologically not unlike the E39 K'sand to Stavanger. It has the much hated and quoted as dangerous, partial dual carriageway. It has slush and snow in the winter, and storms over the summits. It has a lot of crashes: mostly caused by excessive speed and dodgey overtaking. What it replaced, as with the E39 as it is today, was a horrendous string of mixed quality road. The costs of making it all dual carriageway are too big for anyone to swallow.

Swallow must some people: the Skye bridge was a thatcher scheme to connect Skye-the-Brand to the mainland in a successful PFI which was soon voted away and paid off from the government purse. Kristiansand - Stavanger will be hugely expensive and with the very low speed limits relative to the rest of Europe, save less than an hour for cars but maybe around an hour for lorries. It will be safer, but so would "A" road upgrading and safer crawler lanes which continue over summits with speed cameras strategically placed.

Having been on the road around "peak" times in the morning,  afternoon  and early evening I hardly think the E39 warrants dual carriageway status given the volume of traffic I saw. However someone will counter argue that with stats' no doubt, and of course K'sand, Adger and West Fold all have major oil equipment manufacturers, who are just begining to see the life-cycle servicing turn over coming in the door. This is highly profitable business and is time related so Norway can compete in terms of capacity and costs as we go beyond 2020.

The Green Red got stung on thinking big: the CO2 being pumped back into the depleted oil reservoirs was a failure of politics, and the visionary deep tunnel super fast train was also a waste of feasbility study cash. Investment in motor-rail between all the major cities? Well you can move your car, but not at the same time you do. Also freight has gone over to rail but the private rail companies are very pleased to be at 100% capactiy and don't want to or cannot invest in more rolling stock.

Anyways, road is the big thing in this election while in fact the big fight ahead will be privatisation of health services and the suprises that a likely double term right wing government could bring with them in terms of labour laws.

Whatever else happens, the new blue-blue government  will vote for a big rise in MPs salaries, cut the tax for their super rich and bourgoise funders, and then also cut tax for ordinary middle income first standard deviation below average folk: and promptly take it back off them in allowing for private inflation in public provision like pre school, MIRAS, minimum payment for doctors etc.

I am for dual carriageway Oslo- Kristiansand and a mixed A class road on the E39 westwards from there

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