2015 hasn’t been brilliant. Behind all those cheery government surveys of how well the economy is doing is an underlying feeling that we’re all just treading water. Manufacturing is down along with reduced private sector investment; take over activity and business optimism. We’re still waiting for that much vaunted post-election bounce but it hasn’t bounced, yet. Thank heavens for the low oil price that’s helped keep business sales costs down and consumer activity up. The oil industry may be moaning about job losses but the benefits of cheaper fuel across the economy far outweigh those employment losses. And consumer activity, as FairFuelUK constantly reminds the Treasury, accounts for 60% of GDP. Consumer spending is the engine of growth.
Any plans that the Treasury and the Chancellor may have about raising fuel duty can now be robustly discredited given the constant flow of evidence-based data that we’ve provided over the last four years. Keeping a lid on fuel duty rises has been one of the most important factors in our recent economic stability and has helped keep inflation and interest rates low. Every credible economic expert agrees that keeping consumers driving and making sure the haulage industry has affordable fuel have both been critical factors in our fiscal recovery. And in this graphic published by the Treasury itself, it clearly shows why cutting duty is beneficial to the economy. That politicians and ministers didn’t know this immutable economic truth already is surprising, but that’s another thing we’ve discovered on our many engagements with Westminster over the years: a real understanding of how the UK road economy functions is sorely lacking. Howard Cox and I can count the number of politicians and Treasury mandarins who really understand how dependent we are on roads and transport on the fingers of two hands, literally.
And we’re seeing this lack of understanding in many other road-related areas. Fuel duty may be static (its still the highest in Europe) but there are hundreds of other constraints to consumer activity. Parking costs, road maintenance, speed cameras, pot holes, uninsured drivers, local council revenue raising, expensive public transport and many other factors all conspire to make the freedom of consumer movement increasingly challenging and expensive. I remember the Prime Minister saying that the war on motorists was over. Well, from my driving seat things seem to be even worse. The essential process of getting from A to B in order to put cash into the economy and drive growth is becoming more and more difficult. Money spent on fines in box junctions and bus lanes won’t be spent in the shops. Public sector motoring enforcement is piecemeal, unfair, often unjustified and always very costly. Money is being taken from the general economy, consumers are being disadvantaged and personal movement is becoming unnecessarily restricted.
We think that the public sector motoring enforcement is sucking billions out of the UK economy and reducing consumer and business activity. We also believe things are at crisis point. When you don’t have enough time to pay cash into your bank or spend time and money in shops and cafes because a parking warden is constantly hovering, something is deeply wrong. And when you’re driving to your high street and have to pay £60 because you’ve slightly strayed into a bus lane you’re going to shop somewhere else in the future. And as a result income into those high street shops declines significantly. This is a constant circle of transport expense that will drive consumers to online shopping and away from local commerce. Society loses jobs, communities lose shops and the government loses tax revenue to foreign companies based in low tax locations. That’s the chilling effect of draconian public sector motoring enforcement. And the irony is that the victims of these fines, parking tickets and general harassment aren’t the small minority of dangerous drivers we all see so regularly but decent law-abiding hard-working drivers who just want to get on with life and work. The growing culture of generating public sector income from motoring fine revenue carries a heavy social and economic cost. We can’t let this continue unchecked.