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  • Lawrence Bailey

Who benefits from technology?

In reviewing the themes in this column over the past year, it’s come as a bit of a jolt to realise that a modern-thinking chap like me is actually something of a technophobe.

Scratch the surface and Lawrence the Luddite emerges faster than you can say ‘exploding phone’ or ‘online scammer’.

That’s probably the reason I recently spotted a report by an all-party group of MPs who reckon that ‘smart’ motorways utilising All Lane Running (ALR) technology should be put on hold.

I’d never heard of this traffic management system in which the hard-shoulder becomes an electronically monitored third or fourth lane. I have to say though that it sounds like an accident waiting to happen. Published collision statistics would seem to bear this out.

We’re told that its our burgeoning demands as service users that spurs all these technological advancements, but we always seem to be playing catch-up when dealing with the social impact.

Most of us know about the past horrors of animal experimentation to the degree that we no longer revere people in white coats without question. Yet we’ve also learned that popular cynicism about science can overspill into situations where poor vaccination take-up has a hugely negative effect on public health.

The latest big hi-tech noise is all about automation. It seems it’s the answer to every organisational issue, although its noticeable how a good number of those making the claim have a stake in outsourcing firms.

Call me unconvinced, but if there actually is a public-sector computer system out there that hasn’t cost five times more than projected or delivered anything like the promised productivity then it’s being kept a big secret.

As for the private sector, RBS customers who watched helplessly as their savings were filched by fraudsters will tell you what they think of smart banking systems.

I can’t say what issues will beset proposals by HM Revenue & Customs to digitise its VAT programme for small businesses. What I do know is that the House of Lords’ Economic Affairs committee has called for things to slow down, given that 40% of firms have never even heard of the plans let alone had time to prepare.

Sticking some activity onto a computer always seems to be the answer. But as our relationship with technology increasingly shifts towards something approaching outright dependency, I’m left wondering more and more as to who actually benefits.


How will free bridge crossing take its toll?

Despite being overshadowed by other events, including an ill-judged renaming of the second bridge, the move to scrap tollbooths on the Severn crossings has proved something of a political coup.

While never quite representing injustice along Rebecca Riot proportions, the imposition of an ‘entry tax’ into Wales has undoubtedly been a source of national irritation.

Now that the gates are gone, the good times are already beginning to roll with a property price rise in Monmouthshire that reflects its new status as ‘Bristol commuter belt’.

The expected downside though for those heading further west is that traffic will now hit the Newport bottleneck much quicker.

The official story is that an initial 50mph limit will be raised to 70mph limit later in the year. Other sources tell me users can expect variable speed limits from the Severn Crossing up to the J29 at which Cardiff-bound traffic peels off onto the A48.

Have a safe journey.


This my last column of 2018, so can I close by wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas and a Peaceful New Year.

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