If you want a litmus test for recovery, look at the motorways

As I set out yesterday at 5am for a 400 mile round-trip from Kent to Sheffield I didn’t expect to be left with a feeling of swelling pride in the UK economy.

However the motorways can give a very simple litmus test for the state of the UK’s businesses.

According to Department for Transport statistics, traffic on UK roads has reached a record high with 16.3 billion miles travelled in Q3 this year. Light goods vehicle traffic has risen by 6.9% with HGVS up 2.2%.

Yet the common response is to groan about increased congestion (something I had some sympathy with as I hit the fourth traffic jam on the way home last night).

However maybe it’s time we learned to love our busy motorways. Driving up the M20 at 5am I was a lone car among dozens of trucks, and the number of vehicles as well as the variety of what was being transported were a shot of confidence after seven years of economic gloom:

A steam engine going to a tourist spot; entire wind turbine blades making their way to the Thames Estuary; vast sections of pre-assembled railway tracks and sleepers and transporters full of cars and tractors. These among endless lines of container and box trucks.

Working in London and other big cities you can be forgiven for believing that the UK is an economy of service industries but the motorway tells a different story.

I was going to Sheffield with the BBC, they were filming a client, Xeros, which has developed a new type of washing machine that uses polymer beads to replace much of the water. The film crew were in the city for three days interviewing a range of UK organisations that are pioneering new technologies and products.

The filming took place in the aptly named Whittle Way, celebrating another UK innovator, on a business park that rose from the ashes of an old colliery which was once a battle ground in the 1984 Miners Strike.

It all served to illustrate an economy that has changed and is changing once more.

Snaking home through another stream of trucks highlighted how much the UK is making and how busy business parks and factories across the country are. It may be rough science but sometimes the motorway tells a more compelling story than statistics.

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