Tag Archives: road tax

Government signals biggest disaster ever for Britain’s roads – privatisation

Gridlock: Under Coalition plans for transport, motorways and major 'A' roads will be clear - but the roads YOU use will look like this.

Gridlock: Under Coalition plans for transport, motorways and major ‘A’ roads will be clear – but the roads YOU use will look like this.

The Highways Agency is to be privatised, according to new government plans for the biggest disaster in the history of motoring in the UK.

The agency was formed under the last full Tory government in 1994 and operates, maintains and improves (ha ha) the strategic road network – the motorways and major ‘A’ roads that take one-third of the nation’s traffic, in terms of mileage. These are your roads – you pay for them with your taxes. They do not belong to the Conservatives and selling them off is nothing less than the theft of national assets.

The change should signal an end to Vehicle Excise Duty, otherwise known as road tax – but there is no mention of this in the Coalition government’s press release, so it seems likely that the Tories in charge of this project are hoping to siphon your tax money into private hands as profit again, as was the aim with their NHS privatisation.

It may also signal the arrival of tolls on the major roads, creating a two-tier road system: The motorways and ‘A’ roads for rich people and wealthy corporations; the other roads for less wealthy private citizens and smaller firms. Of course the other roads, maintained by local councils, will go to wrack and ruin as they become more clogged with traffic and the surfaces are worn down.

The press release states that the “reforms” (ha ha) will be “tackling decades of underinvestment in roads” and will be “backed by legislation” to ensure “future governments cannot walk away from these commitments”. That’s a mistake – no government may be tied by the decisions of its predecessor and the Coalition knows this. If Labour gets in, it could reverse everything.

The Coalition wants to make the Highways Agency an attractive prize for private investors, which is why it is providing – out of your tax money – “additional funding of £500 million for electric vehicles and £12 billion for road maintenance and resurfacing”.

(Chris Davies: Think how many hospitals you could build for £12.5 billion… Oh, but no – this is money for rich people so you couldn’t possibly contemplate putting it to good use!)

In order to sweeten the deal for future shareholders, the press release says “motorways and trunk roads will get extra lanes, smoother, quieter surfaces, improved junctions and new sections in key areas under the plan published today (16 July 2013) by Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin”.

The £28 billion of total investment – £28 billion in a time of austerity that THEY have forced on US! Michael Meacher was right when he wrote “amazing how austerity is irrelevant when the government wants it to be” – includes “a trebling of funding for motorways and major A-roads… the biggest ever upgrade of the existing network.

“The focus will be on cutting congestion and minimising the environmental impact of roads, including an extra £500 million to make Britain a world leader in electric vehicle technology,” the press release says. The congestion will go onto the network of lesser ‘A’ roads, ‘B’ roads and the rest. Result: You will be late for work.

The release foolishly adds: “These measures complement record investment in rail” – an own-goal, considering the railways were sold off in the 1990s and cost the taxpayer more money now, in real terms, than we were paying for them then.

The government’s new command paper, ‘Action for roads’ details plans to turn the Highways Agency into a publicly-owned company with six-year funding certainty for capital projects and maintenance – underpinned by legislation “so future governments cannot walk away from these commitments”. This is impossible to guarantee. Why should a future government not simply repeal any such legislation?

“It is estimated that the reforms could save £600 million for the taxpayer.” Which taxpayer? The taxpayer having to pay road tax for improvements to routes s/he can no longer afford to use? The taxpayer having to use increasingly run-down minor roads to get about and having to pay more in Council Tax for repairs? The taxpayer in danger of losing their job because of lateness caused by increased congestion on those minor roads? Or the taxpayer who just had a £100,000 tax cut on their more-than-£1 million-a-year earnings?

You’d have to be really stupid to say this was a good idea.

“Today’s changes will bring an end to the short-term thinking that has blighted investment in England’s roads so that we can deliver the infrastructure our economy needs. Backed by the government’s £28 billion commitment, they will give us a road network fit for the 21st century and beyond,” said Mr McLoughlin.

“Our major roads are vital to the prosperity of our nation, connecting people to jobs and businesses to markets. They carry a third of all traffic and two thirds of all freight traffic but in recent decades we have failed to invest properly in them.

“That underinvestment has seen us fall behind many of our economic competitors. Since 1990, France has built more motorway miles than exist on our entire network, while Canada, Japan and Australia all spend four times more on their roads than we do.”

All of this reminds me very much of Ben Elton’s novel, Gridlock. Do you remember it? Here’s the reason, quoted from The Politics of Mobility: Transport, the Environment, and Public Policy by Geoff Vigar, page 175:

“The Minister of Transport, Digby Parkhurst, is portrayed as being in the pocket of the roads lobby, and a mythical ‘Global Motors Corporation’ in particular. This fictional association reflects a general view amongst many outside the transport policy world that the roads lobby has a relationship with central government transport officials that borders on the classic corporatist ‘iron triangles’ to be found in policy-making in the United States. This view is supported by various accounts of UK transport planning in the 1970s and 1980s where the activities of a roads lobby are held to be a critical factor in explaining transport policy (Hamer, 1987; Tyme, 1978; Wardroper, 1981).”

It seems, with the Tories back in power, those bad old days are back.

The Department for Transport intends to consult on these proposals in autumn 2013. For your own good, oppose them.

The future’s terrifying – if the future’s Tory

camspeech5What does the future have in store for the UK, if the Conservatives win the 2015 election?

It seems sensible to conclude my loose series on the current changes to social security benefits – see here, here, here, here and here – by taking a look at what we know they have planned, and what we can reasonably expect from them. Some of this comes from the document ‘2020 Vision’, which has been produced by a group of Conservative Parliamentarians; some is just pushing current activity to a logical conclusion.

It’s all horrifying. Let’s have a look:

1. Conservative ministers to be above the law. That’s right; they want their future governments to be answerable only to Parliament, not to judges. Apparently they think the possibility of judicial review when they make illegal decisions means that the system is too slow. Of course, being answerable to Parliament means being answerable to nobody because a Conservative majority means Parliament will rubber-stampe anything they do, no matter how hare-brained, harmful or tyrannical.

2. NHS to be fully privatised. Of course this is already well on its way now, with the collusion of the right-wing press in keeping some of the major changes quiet. Just take a look at some of the measures being brought in by Jeremy Hunt, right now, if you don’t believe me.

3. Benefits system to be privatised. There has been some discussion of this on the blog already. The idea is simply to switch the system from being nationwide and run by the state to a patchwork of private insurance, run by private companies, for profit. From what’s being said, the biggest player in this would be Unum, the disgraced American company which is already doing considerable damage in the Netherlands, from what one reader has been telling us.

4. Police to be privatised. This is being piloted in certain parts of the UK already. Of course, with private companies running a police service for profit, only the rich will be able to afford their services. In other words, its a wheeze to ensure the poor lose what little luxuries they currently have and are unable to turn to our law guardians for justice.

5. Regional pay for all employees. This is in order to accelerate the race to the bottom of the pay scale for the people who do the actual work. If pay for the same job varies between UK regions, then employers can happily turn to their workforce at any time and say, “They’re doing it for less over the border, so you can take less as well.” The government tried it with public sector pay but was told to think again. We know some of them want to do it with benefits. It’s only a matter of time before it happens.

6. UK to exit Europe. Not because the EU is anti-democratic, forcing unreasonable demands on the UK, but because its human rights laws are damned inconvenient for a political party that wants to crush anyone who isn’t in the top 10 per cent of earners (I may be exaggerating this; it could be that they’re only interested in the top one per cent).

7. Free movement to be discouraged. They already have plans for a two-tier road tax system.

8. Education to be fragmented so you only get the best if you pay for it. Obviously we’ve always had private education but the starvation of the state system to fund ‘free schools’ is softening the system up for worse to come. Can anyone say they honestly understand Michael Gove’s divisive and wasteful policies?

9. Flat-rate taxes. This is a Conservative dream, because flat-rate taxation – one percentage for everybody – provides an unfair advantage to those who have more money to start with. They recognise that there are people in the UK who understand how unfair it is, so they launch periodical campaigns to point us in the other direction. Hence the current push to get us to believe a 20 per cent rise in JSA, from £59.15 to £71 (a rise of just £11.85), is totally unfair when compared to a 12 per cent rise in average wages, from £420 to £468 (a rise of £48 – more than four times as much). How can it be unfair to keep the level of the former the same, as a proportion of the latter – especially when one considers the rocketing prices of groceries and utilities? Those of use who can remember the Community Charge should also remember that this was also a flat-rate tax. People took to the streets to put an end to it but clearly the Conservatives have not learned the lesson. ‘2020 Vision’ suggests that Income Tax could come down to 20 per cent for everybody. This means someone earning £25,000 a year would have £20,000 left after Income Tax. Someone paying themselves £1 million a year would have £800,000 left afterwards. And we wouldn’t have anything like the public sector services that we have, even today after nearly three years of Coalition rule – that level of taxation cannot sustain that level of spending.

10. Continuation of the high-level national deficit and debt. This is to justify the shrinking of the state. The changes that have been made so far, including those that are to come in this year, are not intended to boost the economy – quite the opposite. If this government wanted to boost the economy it would close tax loopholes (including those that have been created by the current Chancellor) that allow the richest in the UK to avoid paying more than £100 billion every year and ensure that any of them who wish to leave this country as a result pay their fair share before they leave. It would also borrow – yes, borrow; don’t you know that interest rates are fantastically low just now? – in order to invest in British jobs and industry, the new technologies that will power the world in the future. They’re not doing that, for specious reasons, and they know that the poorest in the UK will suffer as a result.

That’s what the UK will look like under a government of Tory tyrants.

No wonder so many Scots want to leave.