Adopt flexible working patterns to beat road congestion

Firms are being urged to introduce innovative work patterns in order to cope with congestion on the UK's roads.

In a new report, entitled Tackling Congestion: Driving Growth, the CBI has advised businesses to alter the way employees work as a way of saving time and money that would otherwise be lost due to the snarled up road system.

A survey carried out by the employers' group found that eight out of ten firms regard road use as "vital" to their business.

Some 96 per cent of respondents called on the government to make combating the problems of rush-hour congestion a matter of priority.

Delays caused by heavy traffic are costing the economy in the region of £7 billion annually, the CBI estimated.

But rather than simply build more roads, the CBI argued the case for a radical overhaul of transport and employment thinking.

The report called on firms to introduce more flexible patterns of work and to encourage staff to make use of modern communications technologies, such as video conferencing, instead of always travelling to meetings.

Specific proposals included allowing staff to stagger their commutes and break out of the usual '9 to 5' routine. The CBI said that flexible working patterns not only bring higher productivity to firms, they can help cut emissions and have been shown to reduce congestion as more people work remotely or change the times they travel.

Lift-sharing among employees who make similar journeys and creating shared occupancy motorway lanes were other suggestions.

Improving home and business access to fast broadband connections would also help, the CBI said. However, the UK is already falling behind other countries on its broadband provision, the report pointed out.

Despite the poor state of public finances, the dire levels of congestion on parts of the road network mean the government must not cut public spending on infrastructure disproportionately during the recession, and should restore investment once the recovery is underway, the CBI added.

Road investment should focus on congestion pinchpoints, existing bottlenecks should be dealt with as a matter of priority, and road pricing should be considered for building new roads or extra lanes.

John Cridland, the CBI's deputy director-general, said: "For too long, Britain's roads have been a cause of frustration and delays for our businesses and commuters.

"Now is the time for fresh thinking on the roads. We need a radical overhaul of how we travel and manage our road system if we are to do more than simply tinker at the edges. Merely slowing the endless rise in congestion is not enough. The CBI would like to see policymakers put the same amount of energy and vision into roads as they are doing on high speed rail."