MANY PEOPLE who oppose overseas aid use the argument that much of it is spent on grandiose projects which do little or nothing to help the great majority of the people in the countries receiving the aid.
They point to huge dams which seem to cause more problems than they solve, and to massive airports, skyscrapers and even motorways which may well impress visiting heads of state but serve little other function.
Of all the many misguided projects in which Britain has indulged in the past few decades, one only stands out for its astonishing capacity for survival in the face of all the arguments to the contrary. This is Concorde, an aircraft which may well look beautiful to watch in flight but which is ugly in just about every other respect.
We know now what has been suspected and even predicted for years — that it is a gigantic flop. Yet we persist as a nation in trying to convince ourselves that it is a triumph for Britain, bringing us prestige and the envy of the rest of the world.
We were unwilling to face up to reality when it was being developed, and now that it is in service we would lose too much face to admit that ii is a failure. Concorde was ill-conceived from the start and the whole project has involved an appalling waste of time, money and effort.
Leaving aside all the sound arguments about environmental damage caused by supersonic transports, Concorde is unnecessary and is even a disadvantage to this country.
When it was under development, we were told that it would be the salvation of the British aerospace industry and that airlines would be clamouring to buy and fly it. Hundreds would be sold.
Well over £1,000 million was spent on developing it and the result is that hardly anyone can afford it and it is doubtful if even 20 will ever be built.
Concorde is unnecessary because hardly anyone really needs to fly that much faster than conventional jets. Even then, "need" really means "status", because Concorde, more than anything else, is a very expensive status symbol. This is true for the countries that built it and for most of the people who use it.
Many people now argue that Concorde has crippled rather than saved the British aerospace industry because far too much effort was spent on Concorde instead of on designing the cheaper, quieter and more efficient aircraft that will be needed in the 1980s. It was a mistake even in the growthorientated 1960s; in the stagnant 1970s it is a nonsense.
Many advances in technology have brought great benefits to mankind and one can think of many areas of work where spending even a fraction of Concorde's development costs could have brought real rewards.
Development of effective ways of using solar and wind power and of efficient lightweight batteries are just three examples.
Developing aids for disabled people may seem mundane but often involve very advanced technology and this is a classic example of manifestly useful expertise which is crying out for more financial backing.
There is some consolation in the fact that if Concorde was being considered now, it would get very little support. We are learning our lesson about prestige projects, but it has been an expensive process.
Even now, we are still going ahead with dubious projects. Only last week a massive new trunk road in the Midlands was opened, and we heard of plans to build two new nuclear power stations, before even the existing programme is working properly.
Concorde remains as a socalled triumph of British technology which in reality turned out to be a triumph of technological arrogance over plain common sense,