Howard Cox and I listened to the Chancellor hoping a new man at the helm would be cause for optimism for drivers and the economy.
This wasn’t a driver-friendly Autumn Statement. Car insurance tax went up, £1b on roads is an eightieth of what we’re about to spend on HS2, there was no significant increase in buyers incentives for low emission and electric cars no mention of plans for an electric wireless charging superhighway and only £27m on a road to join Oxford and Cambridge. £220m on easing congestion pinch points might sound a lot but in reality it’s just a tiny raindrop echoing in a massive ocean. And while we did get fuel duty frozen until 2018, the Chancellor would have been mad not to continue the freeze we’ve so successfully campaigned for since 2011. Inflation and interest rates are at stake.
At FairFuelUK we’re doubly disappointed with this Annual Statement since we commissioned and presented to The Treasury a CEBR report that cogently argued the case for a fuel duty reduction. The CEBR worked out that a 3p cut wouldn’t actually cost the government anything and the notional £1b cost would be wiped away by the increase in jobs and extra tax receipts from the resulting pick-up economic activity. The Chancellor chose to ignore this research and the obvious economic wisdom that cutting fuel duty is the quickest way to increase disposable income. Cut the cost of fuel and the effect on consumer spending power happens virtually overnight. This is simple economics.
With many lower income households totally reliant on cars, the threat of rising oil prices from OPEC, congestion and pollution running at record levels, public transport buckling under pressure and many of our roads among the worst in Europe, there’s much more that the Chancellor could, and should, have done to support the UK’s road economy. And we can’t help wondering why? At PMQs, just before Phillip Hammond rose to deliver his Statement, Charlie Elphicke, MP for Dover, asked the PM if the government was going to support low income motorists with lower fuel costs. Her response inferred that the government was aware how important road transport was to the electorate and the economy, but that now has a hollow ring given that we’ve seen so little being offered to improve the lives of the UK’s 37 million drivers.
At FairFuelUK we’re wondering if the government is still bowing to the pressure from the green lobby and that Westminster’s deeply entrenched dislike of cars, vans and trucks is still dictating fiscal policy. After the Chancellor had delivered his statement my drive from the House of Commons back to West London should have taken ten minutes but took a whole hour. Sitting impotently in fuming motionless traffic I mused that this was an Autumn Statement that won’t make life on our roads any easier. Lost opportunity, that!