Want to know more about inequality or digital public services? So do our members!

Photograph: James CarsonPhotograph: James Carson

One of the big attractions of the Idox Information Service is the wide range of subjects covered by our database.  From economic development to crime prevention, social care to urban planning, the breadth of coverage is impressive.  To offer a flavour of that diversity, here we take a snapshot of some recent journal articles that have been especially popular among our member organisations.

Britain: richer, but more unequal

An article in Poverty (A divided Britain) reviewed the evidence on economic inequality in the UK, drawing on four large-scale surveys between 1983 and 2012. These surveys measured public views on what constituted an unacceptable standard of living, and the basic necessities of everyday life, in Britain at the time. There was a rise in poverty over time among those in paid employment, those with children, lone parents, and those in families with disabilities. The article also explored the socio-economic and political changes over the last 30 years that have contributed to a society that is described as richer overall, yet more unequal. And it outlined measures to tackle growing economic inequality, focusing on structural factors including pay, educational opportunities, childcare, tax avoidance and universal welfare.

Copenhagen: digital city

The redevelopment of the Danish capital’s public service through digitalisation was highlighted in an article from Agenda NI (‘Digital public services’). Copenhagen has invested 30 million euro in developing a digitalisation scheme that enables citizens to access most public services online, including applications for passports and driving licences, wedding registrations and social security payments. The article explains that efficiency and cost-cutting was at the heart of the improvements, and as a result the city has made annual savings equating to 20 million euro. Getting city centre managers to buy into the changes was especially important, and one unusual incentive is to offer bonuses to managers taking risks, even if they make mistakes. The approach is certainly forward-thinking, and the article suggest that the Copenhagen model could be applied in other cities.

Olympics and Commonwealth Games: looking back, looking ahead

It’s been a year since Glasgow hosted the Commonwealth Games, and three years since the London Olympics. Two different articles have taken a look at the impact of these major sporting events.

In ‘Going for bronze’, The Economist describes the redevelopment of the Olympic Park. It reports that new housing has revived an area that previously felt like a ghost town, but notes that politicians in the area are unhappy that too little social and affordable housing has been built on the site. Much of the redevelopment would have taken place anyway, says the article, but the Olympics sped up the process. However, the full impact may still take another 15 years to be felt. As one academic tells The Economist: “Creating an ‘Olympic legacy’ is still more of a marathon than a sprint.”

The same might be said of the economic impact of Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games. One year on, Holyrood magazine has reflected on the effect of the Games in terms of tourism, infrastructure investment and employment. It finds that, while the Games generated new business for the host country, the real challenge is to build on that success. The article reports that agencies such as Scottish Development International (SDI) hope to capitalise on increased awareness of Scotland in areas such as food and drink. But, as Anne MacColl, chief executive of SDI tells Holyrood, Scotland needs to punch above its weight in the global marketplace: “We can only do that by ensuring our international propositions are seen and heard on the world stage.”


Want to know more about what we do? Our article Celebrating a different kind of library describes our membership service.

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

Further reading

A divided Britain (economic inequality in the UK)

Digital public services (digital delivery of public services in Copenhagen)

Going for bronze (impact of the 2012 Olympics on east London)

Gold rush (economic impact of Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games)

Britain’s ports: gearing up for the next generation of carriers

In contrast to high speed rail lines and airports, seaports don’t often feature in the headlines. But Britain’s ports continue to be strategic links in the chain connecting local and global markets, accounting for:

  • 95% of all cargo movements by tonnage into the UK;
  • 400,000 jobs;
  • £21 billion to the economy each year; and
  • significant economic impacts on their hinterlands.

However, the port sector is particularly vulnerable to cyclical boom and bust movements. Container throughput in UK ports has fallen for three consecutive years, reflecting a downturn in global trade. To cut its costs, the industry has increased the scale of transport. Ten years ago, the largest container ships travelling from Asia to Europe held 8,000 to 10,000 containers.  These days, as The Independent observed, a new generation of carriers are ruling the waves:

“These triple-E class ships stretch for a quarter of a mile and carry over 18,000 standard 20-foot containers, enough to hold a billion dollars of cargo; if you tried to unload them in one go, the line of trucks would stretch for 68 miles.”

In the UK, there are six berths currently capable of handling such large vessels: three in Felixstowe and two in Southampton. The sixth, and perhaps the most significant is at London Gateway.

Situated at Thurrock, Essex, on the north bank of the River Thames, this new ‘superport’  began operating in 2013. When it reaches full capacity several years from now, London Gateway will be able to handle 3.5 million containers a year. The facility also includes a 9 million sq ft logistics park – the largest in Europe.  London Gateway’s owners – Dubai-based DP World – are banking on this ‘port-centric’ approach paying dividends when the economy picks up.

Currently, a large proportion of maritime containers are shipped inland from container ports such as Felixstowe and Southampton to distribution centres in the Midlands, then freighted back to their final destination. London Gateway believes its big selling point is that its own logistics facilities in the South East are closer to the bulk of the UK population, and will cut out unnecessary HGV mileage and CO2 emissions, while generating cost savings.

There are concerns, however, that London Gateway will draw traffic away from rival UK ports. In response to the challenge from London Gateway, the Suffolk port of Felixstowe, owned by a Hong Kong conglomerate, is planning to double its capacity to 8 million containers by 2030.

Britain’s regional ports are also looking to the future:

  • Work has begun on a £300m project that will add half a million containers to the Port of Liverpool every year, taking its annual capacity to two million;
  • The Bristol Port Company is currently building a £600m deep sea container terminal at Avonmouth Dock to handle large container vessels and next-generation ultra large container ships;
  • Aberdeen Harbour is investigating expansion to a site in nearby Nigg Bay;
  • In Hull, the Alexandra Dock will be transformed into a service hub for the giant wind farms being built in the North Sea.

Concerns about overcapacity remain, heightened by the loss of services from Thamesport on the River Medway to its rivals in Felixstowe and Southampton, and the decision by the SAECS consortium to switch its traffic from Tilbury to London Gateway.

It’s unlikely that any British port will match the throughput of the world’s busiest seaports (in 2013 Shanghai handled almost 34 million containers). However, the extensive and widespread expansion plans suggest that when the anticipated upturn happens, Britain’s ports will be ready.


Further reading

The Idox Information Service has a wealth of research reports, articles and case studies on transport and infrastructure. Items we’ve recently summarised for our database include:

How will the Atlantic Gateway support sustainable economic growth?

Governance, governance models and port performance: a systematic review

The impact of container type diversification on regional British port development strategies

Port to port (how renewables can revive Scotland’s ports)

State of the art (London Gateway deep-water port)

Ports and regional development: a spatial analysis on a panel of European regions

N.B. Abstracts and access to subscription journal articles are only available to members of the Idox Information Service.