Rob is a member of the House of Commons Transport Committee and Chairman of Parliament’s Freight Transport Group.
There were rumours of a budget yesterday although, frankly, for the transport sector, it’s hard to know if it actually happened. What actually was announced amounted to a series of missed opportunities. In the build-up to Brexit the transport and haulage industries, upon which this country so heavily relies, needed something solid to hold on to, to give them a chance to get onto a competitive footing with our European neighbours. Instead, they got a few half-hearted scraps which will achieve very little. Certainly, freezing the HGV Road User Levy and Vehicle Excise Duty for hauliers is of some help as is freezing Fuel Duty, but when you bear in mind that about three-quarters of the cost at the pumps is now tax it’s very small beer. Before the Budget Britain had the highest duty levels for fuel in the EU, and after it, it still does.
From my point-of-view as chair and founder of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Freight Transport it felt like everything else transport-related proposed by Mr Hammond appeared to be designed more to be eye-catching than of substantial benefit. £110 million pounds to counter pinch points in the roads network in the North and Midlands will be of minimal effect as will the Chancellor’s new competition for local authorities to win cash to tackle urban congestion. Surely it would be better to do some properly funded research to work out how to deal with the problem nationally rather than expecting different areas of the country to effectively battle it out for pennies as if they were contestants in some pollution-related game show? If we’re to make serious improvement to our air quality we need a road network which works properly and that means an integrated transport policy, something there hasn’t been in this country since Roman times.”
The Chancellor announced £500 million to help with hi-tech research into driverless cars and improved electric vehicles and that sounds great. The problem is it’s a fraction of what other countries are spending (£3.3 billion is going on driverless cars alone in the United States over the next ten years) and the best researchers are likely to follow the money to where they can make most progress. It’s another example of Britain being full of good ideas but too financially cowardly to properly exploit them. We should be taking the lead in these new technologies and instead we’re following in the wake of others.
The decision not to set up a diesel scrappage scheme has also left a lot of drivers in limbo. Everyone knows motorists were encouraged to buy diesels in the 90s and 2000s and now they’re being painted as the environment’s despoilers-in-chief. A scrappage scheme could have taken the worst offenders off the road. So long as the sums were sufficient it wouldn’t have crippled the second-hand market and would have helped enormously with air quality. By hammering diesel drivers in the media and attacking them with punitive congestion charges and no-go zones they have the worst of both worlds; vehicles of fast plummeting value and no means of raising the funds to replace them.
It feels like the transport sector was an afterthought in this Budget. The Chancellor’s words contained no imagination, no vision and precious little cash.
(The views and opinions expressed by the authors of these blogs are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Freight Transport Association)