Local View: All roads lead to Whitehall.

I’ll admit something from the outset’ this is a bloody boring subject. But it shouldn’t be. Not for any one who drives, is thinking about driving, or is in any way concerned with how this government uses the serious concerns of environmentalism as a smokescreen to raise indiscriminate and arbitrary amounts of revenue from hard working people. So that covers just about every right thinking person I guess. The subject is ‘road pricing’.

Road pricing, in short, is the government’s plans to charge road users by the distance of their journey and depending on the time of travel or, but more likely AND, to charge drivers to enter into a specified zone – much like the London congestion zone.

The subject of road pricing has blighted every major city throughout the UK but was strongly tipped to be introduced first in Birmingham. The government, presumably with a prudent eye on keeping their seats at the next general election, decided that the subject was so emotive – i.e; hated – that they would pass all the tough decisions to Local Government. Recently Birmingham City Council, along with the seven other West Midland council authorities, resoundingly rejected road pricing completely.

Yet despite the almost wholesale rejection of the road pricing scheme (with I believe the possible exception of the Labour hinterland that is Manchester) today in his first budget Alistair Darling decided that the government would still throw oodles of your cash at a further investigation of road pricing. The report ‘confirms additional funding to help local authorities develop proposals for charging schemes’. Errr…Darling, we don’t need it.

Previous form does not make for optimistic reading for anyone concerned with where their hard earned money is going. In a Freedom of Information request obtained by professional Tax ‘watchdogger’ the Taxpayers Alliance the regional transport agency for the West Midlands, Centro, blew a cool £9 Million looking in to the issue of road pricing alone. That’s NINE MILLION QUID. When this is placed in the context of normal working class families being lumbered with the largest tax burden in modern history then it makes the proposed waste even more scandalous. It’s like proposing funds to research the Millennium Bug again. Or the Sinclair C5 as a viable transport option.

All this is taking place despite reports from the Association of British Drivers that the Congestion scheme in London has reduced neither congestion nor carbon emissions. This is often because the biggest gas guzzlers, such as taxis and coaches and buses, are generally exempt from, or pay, the charge making the ‘environmental’ objectives of the tax a dubious proposition. Indeed the specter of that new fundamentalism ‘environmentalism’ is behind it all and as its adherent’s use the power of nightmares to squeeze more cash out of you it becomes a nice little earner from the government. I’m not saying that environmental issues are not important but when almost half the worlds academics can’t agree you’ll forgive me if I remain a tad cynical.

This budget gave nothing to hard working families across the country. I cant elaborate on this further as, unlike a lot of commentators on the budget, I won’t/can’t play armchair economist. I’ll leave it to the pros to pick the government apart. Lucky enough this government is now so disliked that their number is not few.

Oddly the media reports that drivers were ‘handed a boost’ by deferring a rise in petrol till October. That’s not a boost. It doesn’t matter if you’re going to be shot at dawn or at lunch. It’s still a bum deal.

All this is before we get on to the baleful privacy issues relating to the government knowing your every move when you’re driving. I wonder if Orwell was a fan of the motor car…

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10 thoughts on “Local View: All roads lead to Whitehall.

  1. Methinks you are making one mighty big assumption: not everyone drives. So to assume that road pricing is going to affect “just about every right thinking person” is a bit off.
    Also, if you say “almost half the worlds academics”, I can’t help but think “less than half” which, to my mind, equates to ‘not a majority’ which means there is some scope for this to be criticised (presumably by the majority!)
    Now I drive when I’m at home, but that’s because I actually live in the middle of nowhere, which has one bus going into town, and one coming out of town pretty much all day. I have to drive to get anywhere. But for me, I would much prefer to use public transport if I had the choice. This is one of the reasons I don’t bring my car to uni (The others are running costs and fear of damage). I think rather than complaining about how the drivers are being given a “bum deal” you should perhaps be more concerned that (I think- having had a very quick skim through the budget) public transport was largely ignored despite it still being evident that much is needed to improve things across the board.
    Darling only said this in relation to the issue “We are spending more on public transport. But we also need to reduce congestion and improve transport links.” For me, this is where the concern should lie.

  2. The assumption, if you read it Luke, is base on the fact that ‘every right thinking person’ will, or should be unless they are a slave, be interested in their taxes being wasted by the government. Can you think of someone who would not be?

    The academic world is not based on democratic principles so your point about those that oppose climate change is largely irrelevant. Are you suggesting that only an academic that agrees with the majority of his contemporary’s can be right? At one point people thought the world was flat…. and poor old Isaac Newton would have been dismissed by people like you as a crackpot. “Ahh that old Isaac out there wasting his time with his apples eh…”

    You point about Public Transport is right, it was ignored in the budget, but is also an irrelevance regarding this blog. Public Transport is a subject, and a valid one at that, for another blog. This blog was a comment on how intrinsically wasteful this government is. You can’t fit every offshoot of a subject in a small blog. The blog was about waste, ‘transport’ in this context was simply a vehicle for exposing that waste (excuse the pun).

  3. Of course the academic world isn’t based on democratic principles. However, if I ask 500 scientists to undertake research on climate change, and 400 of them come to me and say ‘yes it is happening’ and the other hundred say ‘no, it isn’t happening’; then I will be more inclined to plan based upon the majority rather than the minority. I disagree anyway, I don’t think the government is using climate change as a smokescreen for raising taxes, as, for all their flaws, I cannot see them being that scrupulous about something which is as big as climate change.
    Anyway, that is beside the point.
    Your main, apparently implicit, point about waste of money seems to be well hidden in the blog. Re-reading it, there is an quite big amount of time spent on detailing how, as road users, we should be concerned that pricing is still being entertained, and, for all intents and purposes, your first paragraph only serves to back this up. As you said, “the subject is road pricing”, not “the subject is wastage of taxes”. Now, maybe this is just me, but when people tell me that the subject of the blog is x, I’m inclined to believe them.

  4. Sorry, I apologies.

    It’s my fault, here was me crediting the people reading this blog with a certain level of intellect. You’re right Luke. I’ll spell things out in BLACK AND WHITE from now on so not to exclude any body that might need a glaring neon sign posting towards the central issue….

    If the Government was not using the environment as a smokescreen to raise revenue then why is their response to every environmental issue a tax? This happens either directly to the individual, like, say road excise, or indirectly via business. They Labour party have to understand that when you tax business all a business does in response is to then put it’s prices up to cover that tax.

  5. I completely agree with Andy.

    If the government were so concerned about the environment they would offset environmental taxes with other tax reductions, thereby encouraging people to reduce their tax further while both reducing congestion and saving the environment at the same time.

  6. I too must apologise, I forgot people involved in politics very rarely do black and white, and instead much prefer to beat about the bush trying to say something, tarting it up in a vague attempt at having a dig at whichever party is in government.
    Sorry, but the point that you start questioning other peoples intellect is the point I lose any sort of respect for what you are trying to say, regardless of whether I agree with you or not.
    I also think it is naive to suggest that the government isn’t as concerned with the environmental issues as it is with lining its own pockets. Having skimmed my way through 20 pages of the budget issue relating to climate change, whilst there are a few taxes increased/introduced (fuel duty, aviation duty, landfill tax plus a couple more) there are just as many positive things (ECAs on water efficient technology and waste, reduced VAT on “professionally-installed energy saving materials and microgeneration (from 17.5% to 5%)”, “Landlords Energy Saving Allowance”, “Package to encourage energy service companies” plus more).
    I’m not so sure every response to environmental issues is a tax, and instead think that the media have generated an image of this which you obviously educated people seem content to run with.

  7. Luke,

    Strategic and co-orinated tax levies and tax breaks are a good way to determine people’s behaviour. In fact it is the best means that the government has at it’s disposal.

    For example, if you want households to recycle more rubbish, then you might introduce some sort of household rubbish tax. This proposal however, should be met with a reduction in council tax. This way, people can control their local tax level by recycling more of their waste. You deliberately appeal to their self-interest to make them behave in a certain way.

    For example, if you want people to walk or use public transport then you could increase fuel tax. This, on the other hand, has to be offset by abolishing road tax. Again, you are putting more control in the hands of the agent to determine their own tax levels according to their consumption. Meanwhile you might abolish tax completely on engine convertability and alternative fuels.

    This government, however, has shown itself incapable of joined up thinking,

  8. Luke,

    At no point in my blog do I say, and neither do i think, that the government is not concerned with environmental issues. In fact considering the revenue their making from it I’d say they love the stuff! What I do think is that they are doing the wrong thing in a large part of their policy which is to tax us what ever the problem maybe. The examples you cite all involved people actually doing an act to get their money back. A cut in VAT is not a tax cut because to in order to save money you have to spend money! And that money has to spect where the government says it should, a removal of free choice. It’s easy to throw things like that in to a report because it means very little.

    It’s typical of this government’s approach. For example, today the government backed Heathrow extension opened – greatly increasing the aviation capacity of the UK. Now considering that aviation fuel is the greatest single contributor to carbon omissions, and considering that the government have been taxing people on flights its slightly hypocritical to do the one and then back the other.

    You also make the utterly bizarre assertion that ‘I work in politics’. I’m a Law undergraduate!

    I do have however completely agree with your opening line ‘people in politics rarely do black and white’. Which is the reason for the blog and the reason for my scepticism. Can I just ask? If you think that, then where do you get such confidence in this government from? If you believe that people in politics rarely do black and white then why are you so sure the government is being honest with you? Your opening line backs up my main point.

  9. I didn’t say you WORKED in politics at all, as a Law undergraduate, I’m sure you are aware that the devil is in the detail, I said “involved in politics” which is different I think you’ll have to agree.
    I don’t have “such confidence” in this government, as people who know me will tell you, I’m openly critical as and when I feel it right. Like I was right back at the start of this thread when I moaned that little had been done for public transport in the budget.
    That said, I also prefer to view it as impartially as possible, that means taking what both the Conservatives and Labour parties say, and trying to not view it through rose-tinted specs of the other side. This is why I dislike politics more generally- allying yourself to any given side seems foolish to me, when both sides may have good (but different) approaches to various things. For me, picking a side means that I have to, by and large, disagree with the other side (not always true, but generally…). I prefer impartiality, going with whoever I happen to think is offering me the best outcomes.
    Which is why I’m curious as to what the Tories would try and do differently? To me it seems easy to criticise (and it seems that in the UK that is one of the things we are damn good at) without really having a justifiable alternative.
    In terms of “that money has to be spent(?) where the government says it should”- of course it does. That’s what being in power is about, identifying the areas YOU think shoud be helped/improved, and running with it. If the tories had their bums on the seats, they would do the same thing, in different areas. Sorry, but for me that doesn’t really stand. Likewise, it’s easy to say “it’s easy to throw things like that into a report because it means very little” just a couple of days after the report has been published. I think there needs to be a much longer term awareness of the things that are trying to be achieved.
    I still think it is too much of a sweeping statement to assert that their solution is to simply tax people to sort things out.

  10. Luke,

    If you don’t want an impartial point of view then why are you reading a Conservative blog?

    Your right that there was very little time between the budget and the blog. That is the reason the blog was so esoteric in subject matter.

    I am a member of the Conservative party but I don’t agree with everything that they do, anyone who did would be a drone. Even members of the Parliamentary party don’t agree with everything that their party does! I’m a member because our broad approach to governing people lives and the underlying philosophy is one that I agree with; individuals matter more than the state and are better at governing their own lives. People who are too partisan are bad for politics and risk being indoctrinated and that’s far too socialist a concept for a libertarian like me to accept :0).

    As for the Tory approach to climate change and the environment we have to wait until the formal policy paper is published but we can discern what our approach will be from the speeches of our Environment Sec and recent speeches from Osborne. Largely it looks like ‘we’ will pass the burden of cleaning up the planet on to the markets and business (but not in the form of a simple tax, though that will form part of it). For example we have proposed a separate market index for ‘green’ companies and this will fund research into green ideas (not just fuel etc). There will also be ‘Green’ tax exempt ISA’s. This will enable the UK to develop green energy and greener ideas without having to tax ordinary families. It may not be perfect and will be bold enough to say that i don’t know enough bout how new market indexes have faired in the past (though the AIM seems to do well). We’ll have to wait and see.

    Ps; without the ubiquitous sweeping statement the blogging world would cease to exist.

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