Its main story was how the second half of the decade of austerity is going to see the cuts already made to public spending seem insignificant compared with what will have to come after 2015 if, as a nation, we are to balance our budget. According to the paper annual savings of £48 billion will have to be found amongst Whitehall departments. That is compared with the £25 billion found each year since the 2010 general election.
The story reminded us of one of the two things that will dominate all our lives in the near and medium term future: the other is a burgeoning population which is set to rise by, give or take, ten million over the next couple of decades.
To summarise the situation: more people, less money.
For anyone who needs to travel these are serious issues. While the Prime Minister has this week reiterated his intention to undertake the “biggest, boldest and most far-reaching” upgrade to roads in a generation the fear is that the finances won’t match the rhetoric.
Yet if there is an area of public expenditure which deserves protection, and indeed expansion, it has to be transport. Some 90% of all passenger miles take place on the road network. Movement of freight is also an activity which predominantly relies on the highways.
But doubt remains: what if the money isn’t found (leaving aside the fact that the gap between the Chancellor’s tax income from fuel duty and VED is four times what is spent on roads)?
The future congestion on the roads doesn’t bear thinking about. Actually, things won’t be much better on the Tube and the railways as officials at Transport for London have already warned us.
Each year we say there must be smarter ways of working and each year we don’t quite seem to reach that tipping point where we fundamentally alter our travel behaviour. Perhaps it is because the impediments to travel – predominantly cost and jams/overcrowding – only ever get worse on an incremental basis and while we grumble mostly we continue to grin and bear it.
But the time must surely come when enough of us say enough is enough and the revolution in home, remote and flexible working really takes off. This is not simply about modal shift – we support this where appropriate, but as hinted at above, all motorised methods of travel will become less comfortable – but finding a way of cutting out our daily commutes altogether or at least significantly reducing them.
The $64,000 question is when this will happen. In an ideal world it will be government that leads. It is all very well for ministers to articulate the need to change. But they need to lead by example.