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Charlie Mullins: Make these utilities road hogs pay

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Stop whinging about the cost of the London Permit Scheme, says the founder of Pimlico Plumbers

Utilities firms should stop moaning about the London Permit Scheme for roadworks and help get the capital moving again.

Any business that has to use our capital city’s road network will have complaints about the effect that roadworks have on their operations’ productivity and bottom-line profits.

I’m sure the problem exists in villages, towns and cities across Britain, but it’s the roadworks in London caused by the utility companies that really make my blood boil.

They impede freight and public transport, and are a serious cause of economic inefficiency.

The permit scheme, complete with fine regime, was a great start to the new year. Quite honestly, how we managed to get to 2011 without it beats me.

“The London Permit Scheme will ensure that utility companies and others not only have to apply for permission first, but also pay a rental fee before digging up the roads”

Clearly the hole-diggers need more incentive to get on with the job, which is why I got on board mayor Boris Johnson’s campaign to encourage the government to finalise the adoption of a lane rental scheme for roadworks in London.  

There are at least 109 utilities and other organisations now allowed to dig up our capital’s roads. Sometimes they do it without permission and mainly without talking to each other. And they show little sign of changing their ways.

The London Permit Scheme ensures that utility companies and others not only have to apply for permission first, but also pay a rental fee before digging up the roads. 

Such a scheme was an urgent priority for London, especially in the run up to the 2012 Olympics.

Roadworks have a significant impact on London’s economy, causing 38 per cent of the capital’s traffic delays and costing London businesses nearly £1bn a year.

At Pimlico Plumbers, we operate a fast-response system and our fleet of more than 150 vehicles are constantly negotiating the many traffic cones and holes in the road made by the utility companies to get to jobs on time.

Of course, this is not just a London problem. Businesses all over the country are trying to squeeze as much as they can into the working day. Disruption and distraction does not help these companies or the wider economy.

As far as I am concerned, there is also no weight in the argument from the utility firms about having to pay to dig up the roads. Any company like British Gas that makes £585m profit in six months can afford this scheme.

“Private business is supposed to be driving the economy forward, but that’s not going to happen if we’re all stuck at temporary traffic lights while workmen stare into a hole”

They also need to look at the bigger picture in their support of the economic recovery. 

The UK-wide introduction of rental fees would force those who dig up the roads to reflect something approaching the real cost to towns and cities, and encourage them to speed up and coordinate their work.

From South London to Southampton, our solution for the capital could be easily applied across the country.

Coordinated hole-digging is a far more efficient way to keep the country moving, while the rental income will help local authorities who’ve seen budgets slashed.

This is simple common sense and another way in which the private and public sector can work together to improve the opportunity to do business and make money.

Private business is supposed to be driving the economy forward, but that’s not going to happen if we’re all stuck at temporary traffic lights while workmen stare into a hole.

And, once we’ve got some coordination in the digging-up process, we’ll need to sort out the uncomfortable issue of filling in another kind of unwanted crater: the pothole.

But, perhaps, it’s best I don’t get started on the damage they do to my vans every day. Another time, perhaps?

Charlie Mullins started Pimlico Plumbers in the basement with just a second-hand van and a bag of tools in 1979. Today it’s become a family business that is now part of the Pimlico Group plc, covering all of London and completing more than 70,000 jobs a year. Mullins regularly appears on television and in the press, including channel 4’s The Secret Millionaire.




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