Holland has a population of 16.7m and is nearly 40% more densely populated than the UK. It is very dependent on Foreign Trade. They are the UK’s fourth largest export market, and Dutch companies are the second largest investors in the UK (after the USA).
The UK has 1.8m Dutch visitors each year and 75% of the population speak English. There are lots of big UK/Dutch companies like Shell, Unilever, Logica/CMG and P and O. Like the UK, Holland has had a double dip recession, and recently agreed a Euro 12.4bn budget reduction package.
On Day one the Transport Select Committee was visiting Holland. We started from St Pancras with a 8.30am meeting with Eurostar on route and arrived at Utrecht, via Brussels and Rotterdam, early in the afternoon.
Our first meeting was with the Dutch Ministry for Infrastructure and the Environment to discuss their railways and policy on big transport projects. They had just awarded the national network concession (a bit like a super franchise for all the money-making routes in the UK) to NS (Dutch railways) without any competitive tender.
There appears to be some debate on whether this falls foul of EU rules, or whether it will soon. Nobody we met seemed to be able to justify the decision on cost or quality of service.
In the evening we met some of the representatives of some of Holland’s big companies, interest groups and political representatives of the CDA and Labour (PvDA) Parties.
Although the Labour party and the Conservate Liberal Party (VVD) are the biggest two parties in parliament, equivalent of our Labour and Tory Parties, they have done a deal to agree next year's budget and are in discussion to set up a coalition together.
Holland has a much more integrated transport system thatn the UK. They have a very advanced national smart ticketing scheme. It is similar to London’s Oyster card, but it includes bikes and car hire too.
Tomorrow, we are off to Germany.