On the merits of competition in government services


Perhaps we should be having more competition with government services? A businessman who built his own £325,000 toll road to bypass roadworks is to close the shortcut after the local council invested £660,000 to finish repairs five weeks early.

Mike Watts, 63, claims he will now not make a penny and will lose out on a profit of several thousand pounds after Bath and North East Somerset completed the work ahead of schedule.

He became the first private individual to build a British toll road in more than a century when a crucial road in Kelston, Somerset, was closed by a landslip, leaving locals with a 14-mile diversion.

The roadworks were scheduled to last until Christmas, which would have given Mr Watts and his wife Wendy, 52, a healthy profit on their £325,000 investment.

But instead the A431 Kelston Road between Bristol and Bath will re-open tomorrow, meaning he couple will just break even after spending £150,000 to build the road and £150,000 on upkeep.

That he won't make a profit is no doubt distressing to him but it's of no importance at all over public policy. And there's more than a suspicion (look, your humble writer is a Bathonian and he's absolutely convinced that there's no suspicion at all, this is simple fact) that the speed up was done out of spite. Can't have the council being made to look bad or incompetent, can we, people will wonder what they're paying their taxes for! But again that's of no real import here.

What is important is that the landslip has been corrected, the public road opened 5 weeks earlier than it would have been without the competition. And yes, even if is simply spite that drove that decision the consumers are all better off as a result. So, more competition in public services please: for we are supposed to be running this whole economy and government thing in order to benefit the consumers.