The haulage industry is suffering badly from this governmentâ€™s crippling taxes on motor vehicles and fuel. It does not drive lorries off the roads. Instead it gives a huge competitive advantage to foreign lorries to come over the Channel and grab the business.
This government has done practically nothing to increase rail capacity, offsetting the completion of the Channel tunnel rail link with measures which have reduced the use trains can make of existing tracks – the railways cut services again over the bank holiday for engineering works. You cannot deliver to most shops and factories by train â€“ the goods have to go by truck to reach the goods entrances. If the government wishes to see the people fed, and jobs provided in British factories, it has to accept lorry traffic to move the products around. Treating lorries and vans as villains in some environmental horror movie raises the prices of food and essentials, hurting those on low incomes most, and transfers jobs from the UK to abroad.
A foreign truck business can fill their vehicles with cheaper fuel at Calais or some other French or Belgian port, and ply their trade in the UK. They can pay a foreign rate of tax on the vehicle, considerably lower than that of the UK. They can pay their drivers the overseas rate, which, in the case of the Eastern Europeans, can be a lot lower than UK pay levels. Foreign trucks drive round Labourâ€™s nasty attack upon British hauliers, and take the business the UK industry needs to be able to have a chance of paying the governmentâ€™s rip-off at the pumps. The Conservative party has long argued for a Brit disc or some other tax device to get the foreign lorries to pay their fair share of motoring taxes when using UK roads. This revenue could be applied to cutting the tax requirements on the UK vehicles. We set out ways of alleviating the tax burden on UK lorries and levelling the playing field with foreign lorries in the Economic Competitiveness review (Freeing Britain to Compete, p. 27). We pointed out that, as of last year, 75% of all lorries leaving the UK for the continent are now foreign-owned. With the vicious taxation of diesel now at the pumps this proportion will rise still further. It is high time the government at least came up with a system to balance the tax burden on transport more fairly between UK and foreign trucks, if they insist on this very high overall level.
Some Labour MPs now seem to realise that they are fast approaching high noon for their lop-sided green strategy. Over the last decade Labour has pursued a dogged and unpleasant campaign attacking the motor vehicle in all its guises. The car has been castigated as if it were the main generator of carbon dioxide, attacked for being unsafe, and singled out to be the one part of the economy which must not grow. In their ever more frantic desire to stop people getting around â€“ and now to stop goods as well â€“ they have lighted upon their ability to take ever larger sums of tax off motor vehicle owners and users. The robbery at the pumps is now so extreme that the public are saying very clearly to the government they have overdone it. News that next year will see a big increase in Vehicle Excise Duty for most people as well is just insufferable.
Labourâ€™s green policy is about to fall because it is lop-sided and mean-minded. Tax and regulation were used in a draconian manner to try to stop people driving, while the government offices belted out the heating and the air conditioning, Ministers swept by in government cars paid for by the taxpayer or took to the skies to fly around the world at the taxpayers’ expense. Street lights are left on all night, even in places where no-one ventures out after midnight, some public buildings are floodlit at night, and few government offices have proper heating and lighting controls that switch off the systems when not needed. Labour has not yet dared target our homes with the same intrusive taxes and regulations on domestic power use as they inflict on us in the car. If they were thinking of doing so, the huge unpopularity of their attacks on motoring must now be driving home to the most insensitive Minister that they cannot go further down this route.
This week with the fuel protests from hauliers and the awakening of Labour MPs to the Vehicle Excise Duty increases – the Poll Tax of Wheels – it is likely the government will come to understand, finally, that it has driven the motorist into sullen hostility to all this government does and stands for. The attack on motorists has been unfair and unacceptable. They forgot that most people use cars, and we all rely on the work done by lorries and vans for our food and other supplies. They will have to think again, unless they want to go down to a very large electoral defeat.