Should a Value Be Placed on a Life, re Croydon 20MPH?

The scheme to implement a wide area, signed-only 20 Mph speed limit in the London Borough of Croydon has been covered in past articles (see the ABD’s campaign page here: http://www.freedomfordrivers.org/croydon20.htm ). The scheme will cost over £1 million and there have been lots of objections from local residents and the ABD. But Councillors have pushed it through regardless.

It is now the subject of a Judicial Review over the defective consultation process. In addition, I made a complaint to Croydon Council about that in June, and after an initial brush off have had a final response from Jo Negrini, their CEO. She ignored my arguments about the lack of proper cost/benefit justification and lack of provision of the likely benefits in the consultation documents. She simply argued that a value cannot be placed on a life.

This is an extract from my response: “you say (on page 3) that “the report emphasises several times that a value cannot be placed on a life and therefore the benefit of preventing, even a single fatality, cannot be said not to represent value for money to the public”. You use that statement to justify the fact that no proper cost/benefit analysis was done, or the benefit of the scheme put to councillors before they made a decision to proceed.

Such a statement just shows how ignorant you are on road safety matters and the decision-making process used on public schemes (or perhaps you are not so ignorant and are just using this as a poor excuse). A value is placed on a life everyday when evaluating public expenditure. That is for the simple reason that when comparing projects, or looking at where limited cash resources are spent (and as Theresa May recently said: “there is no magic money tree”), it is rational to choose the most cost-effective projects in which to invest. By so doing, the most lives are saved.

The problem with the Croydon 20 wide area scheme is that an enormous amount of money has been spent, that could have been better spent on other road safety projects. And hence saved more lives!

Valuing lives may be seen as somewhat hard-nosed for those who do not have any scientific background, or have not been schooled in how to make rational decisions, but it is how road safety schemes normally are, and should be evaluated.”

This unfortunately is a very good example of the poor quality of local authority decision making in not just London but the UK as a whole. Uneducated and ill-informed councillors make policy decisions that their executive staff are expected to justify and implement. But good council officers should tell the truth and stand up for what is right.

Simillarly the Mayor of London has caught this bug. So he went ahead with the London “T-Charge” this week despite being advised that it would not show any significant benefit in terms of reduced air pollution. It has just imposed enormous costs on one of the poorest sections of the community (those who drive very old cars), but the Mayor thinks it makes for good headlines. Just line up some young schoolchildren for a photo-shoot (a very dubioius practice) and explain this is one step to fixing air pollution problems in London. It makes for great publicity, and helps the Mayor to raise more in taxes under the guise of public health! Great politics if you can fool the public for long enough.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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