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Opinion: Infrastructure is crumbling - it's time to sort it out


By Martin McTague, FSB Chairman, Policy and Advocacy

What do you do if there’s a hole in the road?

Get someone to look into it.” 

I wonder how many Christmas crackers that old joke’s been in.

But these days, getting someone to look into – or actually fix – a pothole seems like an increasingly uphill struggle. And it’s no laughing matter for those who rely on the road network to run our businesses. 

It’s estimated more than 40,000 miles of road in the UK are plagued by potholes. Councils seeking to save money are only filling in around half the number they used to a few years ago. 

It doesn’t just mean a bumpy ride – these pesky potholes can do all sorts of damage to our vehicles, which we then have to fork out money to repair. 

I’ve seen one estimate that it’s now costing UK drivers £1.7 billion a year. We need good infrastructure to improve productivity, and yet one of the most important aspects of basic infrastructure – local roads – are being allowed to deteriorate. 

While there has been significant investment in some major road projects in recent years, it seems a complete false economy that the smaller roads that link our homes and businesses to those glistening new stretches of highway are falling to pieces.

It’s not just holes in the roads – it’s also holes in the wall. Parts of the cashpoint network have come under threat in recent months, with potentially serious consequences for many small businesses. 

While card payments are an increasing part of the mix, cash still accounts for millions of transactions. 

This is particularly true in retail for low-cost items, in tourist areas, and in rural areas where the credit card terminal won’t connect to the internet because of the lack of decent broadband coverage. 

The potential decline of the hole-in-the-wall network is all the worse because of the ongoing wave of bank branch closures. These have left many communities without access to banking services, small shop owners having to drive miles (on potholed roads!) to bank their day’s takings, and small business owners unable to discuss their financial affairs face to face. 

It also has a devastating impact on high streets and town centres, giving consumers less reason to visit and leaving small businesses in the area with fewer customers. Taking away the cashpoint as well would add insult to injury, and yet that is a distinct possibility because of proposed changes in the way the cash machine network is funded.

In Dubai and Abu Dhabi, you can go to a hole in the wall which dispenses gold bars, while a ski resort in Canada has a ski-thru version where you can tap in your PIN on the piste. The Americans have installed cash machines everywhere from Antarctic research stations to golf courses, where mobile ATMs trundle from one hole to the next on buggies. 

Yet here in the UK there are areas where you struggle to find somewhere simply to withdraw a £10 note to spend in a local newsagent. That’s why FSB has been leading a campaign alongside the consumer group Which? to save our cashpoints.

It all adds up to holes in infrastructure that are damaging small businesses in communities across the UK. It’s time not just to look into these holes, but to fix them.