From the Archives: Technology Not HS2

This was originally published in October 2012: it’s by Tara Farley, from Denham Against HS2.

Oxford University last year announced the use of video conferencing to reduce the travel burden on students travelling across campus and wider afield from home and overseas. While insurance giant AXA has slashed $100 million in the last three years from its travel budget using video conferencing. Helvetia Wealth save 100 travel hours a fortnight and shave $70,000 a year off travel costs annually using audio and video conferencing. Government agencies have long seen the benefit in technology with North Wales Police investing in a range of technologies to reduce travel burdens since 2008. (Source: Cisco)

There is a raft of both small, medium and large private and public sector companies adopting audio and visual conferencing solutions to reduce the travel burden and provide a better work life balance for employees. At the same time, city centre real estate is a premium and businesses no longer want or need to provide a dedicated desk for employees.

Audio and video technology has been around for some time but it is the explosion in cloud based and software as service (SaaS) applications, which enable even tiny firms without large IT infrastructures to benefit. Anyone with a laptop can now access simple collaboration tools such as Skype and WebEx. The days of attending every meeting physically in person are disappearing. Anyone who has used advance teleconferencing already knows that with mega pixel cameras and stable infrastructures your colleagues on the other side of the world are tangibly in the same room. Why the Government is hell bent on ignoring the explosion of these technologies when assessing the need for HS2 is dumbfounding.

Many people already enjoy home working. Personally, I have worked from home for nearly fifteen years while employed by some of the largest corporations in the world. A recent survey published in the Evening Standard demonstrated London based workers would also relish a couple of days a week working from the comfort of their home. Universities are seeing students using online distance learning out performing those who are campus based.

We are told that rail travel is increasing at a rate of 6% per annum inflated by the rise of mass immigration over the last decade. However, if we are seeing the above trends in home working and hot desking then the need to travel to an office five days of the week could become as dated as sitting in your employers office smoking a cigarette.

This is only considering the technology that is available right now, not what is available in five to ten or even twenty years. Twitter did not exist five years ago so how will other communication tools change the way we work, rest and play. Even if you are not already deploying these types of technologies in your workplace you probably already benefit from internet shopping and the effect on the traditional high street is evident as we prefer to shop from home and Amazon becomes the most powerful retailer in the world. Gone are the days of driving to and from the video rental store and racking up late fees as we live stream film and video direct into our homes.

It is something this Government really need to asses before burdening the taxpayer with a £34 billion pound bill for HS2 [NB This has increased to £50 billion – Ed]. Considering we have a minister for civil society I find it astounding, we no longer have a minister for technology yet we did in the 1960s before the internet and the proliferation of mobile phones and devices. We are yet to realise the benefits of the 4G mobile network, due to be launched in UK cities later this year, which the Government is strangely delaying through its Ofcom auctioning process. The Government needs to re-dress the balance and research how communications and related technologies are likely to affect the way we travel before the next generation is paying for HS2, while sat at home working and wondering why there is train thundering through the countryside at 250mph with no one on it.

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