Tag Archives: road

India’s plastic roads might be paving the way for a better UK environment

Take a look at this:

That’s right – India has been using its waste plastic to build roads that show no signs of wear and tear after years of use and are cheaper to build than those made of conventional materials.

Why aren’t we doing this in the UK?

In fact, there may be perfectly good reasons not to. I remember when the Wills cigarette factory was built in Hartcliffe, Bristol, it was an ugly block of metal squares – so the firm covered it in a special chemical that was supposed to turn a pleasant green on contact with the atmosphere.

The problem was that the atmosphere on which it had been tested was much drier than the humid south Bristol swamp. The building turned a rusty purple instead, and remained that way until it was knocked down to make way for (guess what?) a shopping centre.

It is entirely possible that an attempt to build plastic roads in the UK may suffer from similar local difficulties. But I have no evidence that any experimentation has been carried out. Wouldn’t it be a good idea at least to try?

Alternatively, this is a potential export market that we may all welcome. If we can’t build durable plastic roads ourselves (or even if we can; I’m sure there’s enough raw material to go around) we can always export our waste plastics to countries that can.

It would solve several problems at once – or so it seems to me.

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Since Brexit the UK has lost 68% of exports to its biggest market – because Gove ignored the experts

Michael Gove says the UK has had enough of experts: it seems his Chelsea scarf has cut off the supply of blood to his brain.

Now we know why senior Tories have been quietly telling us we’ll have to wait a number of years before seeing the benefit (ha ha) of Brexit.

I notice that the number of years mentioned seems to vary between five and 50. That also tells us much.

But it is our memories that we should be consulting. We were told that Brexit would take us out of the shadow of the EU and into the “sunlit uplands” of independence (even though we were never dependent on the European Union, when the UK was a member).

That was the happy fantasy; this is the bitter fact:

The volume of exports going through British ports to the EU fell by a staggering 68% last month compared with January last year, mostly as a result of problems caused by Brexit.

It’s a drop of two-thirds – a disastrous amount for any country. For the fifth-richest in the world, it signals a precipitous fall to a place much lower in the international wealth rankings.

And there must be no passing of blame. Responsibility lies firmly with Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove, it seems – who ignored repeated warnings from the Road Haulage Association.

In a letter to Gove dated 1 February, the RHA’s chief executive, Richard Burnett, also told the minister he and his officials had repeatedly warned over several months of problems and called for measures to lessen difficulties – but had been largely ignored.

In addition to the 68% fall-off in exports, about 65%-75% of vehicles that had come over from the EU were going back empty because there were no goods for them to return with, due to hold-ups on the UK side, and because some UK companies had either temporarily or permanently halted exports to the EU.

“I find it deeply frustrating and annoying that ministers have chosen not to listen to the industry and experts,” he said.

Ah, well. We all know Michael Gove’s views about experts.

Yes indeed. Mr Gove said the people of the UK had had enough of experts getting it wrong all the time.

Unfortunately for him, it seems the experts – and, yes, they do come from an organisation that can be reduced to an acronym – were right and he was wrong.

I wonder how many billions of pounds he has cost his fellow UK citizens?

Source: Fury at Gove as exports to EU slashed by 68% since Brexit | Brexit | The Guardian

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Auschwitz image: Did Tom go too far?

150107auschwitz1

It’s a matter of judgement, isn’t it?

The image above is the parody of the Conservative Party’s infamous ‘Road to Recovery’ poster showing the railway line leading to the World War II extermination camp at Auschwitz, as tweeted by fellow blogger Tom Pride with the words, “The new Tory campaign poster featuring a German road’s a bit controversial”.

The tweet worked on several different levels: It referenced the fact that all three claims made on the original poster were inaccurate – in effect, the Conservative Party lied to the public with its very first piece of campaign material; it also acknowledged the fact that the road in the original picture was not British, as had been claimed by George Osborne on Channel 4 News (and this blog has covered reporter Cathy Newman’s surprise on finding out this was not true), but was a road near Weimar in Germany – another Tory lie; and it also made a strong point about the future the UK might face if voters allow themselves to be persuaded into supporting the Tories, based on this lying campaign.

It is also worth drawing attention to Vox Political commenter (and The Critique Archives blogger) Martin Odoni’s reaction to the revelation about the origins of the Tory poster’s image: “I’m no believer in omens or sympathetic magic, but, after all the economic hardship of the last seven years, that is really bad symbolism. I mean, don’t we remember what economic chaos and an evil, fanatical Chancellor did to the Weimar Republic?”

This writer received several versions of the Auschwitz railway image after publishing an article on the Conservative campaign poster.

Tony Dean commented with a simple reference to this one:

150107auschwitz2

And commenter marcf28 sent the following image, with the words “Interesting choice of image – with a striking similarity to this one”.

150107auschwitz3

Neither picture has appeared on Vox Political before because this writer considered them a step too far. The comments were published and readers were free to click on the links if they so desired.

I exercised my judgement and that was my decision.

It seems that Nottingham Labour councillor Rosemary Healy has been suspended because she neglected to make a similar judgement call.

As a follower of Tom Pride on Twitter (and there’s nothing wrong with that; Tom’s articles and tweets often provide an oasis of amusement for those of us who are struggling against the harm being caused every day by the Coalition Government) it is entirely possible that she retweeted his picture automatically, in the belief that her own followers would enjoy some sharp humour.

Alas, the humour was too sharp for some, and crossed the line of good taste in their opinion.

Was Cllr Healy wrong to retweet this image? On balance, she probably was. As a councillor representing the Labour Party, it could be argued that she should not be re-transmitting messages that could be interpreted as making light of a very dark period in human history.

Could be argued. Could be interpreted. It’s a matter of judgement.

It could also be argued that the tweet, and the image, make a deadly serious point about the reality of Conservative government. Many parallels have been drawn – accurately (before anyone starts wrongly invoking Godwin’s Law) – between Conservative-led Coalition policy and the actions of the Nazis (who came to power after the failure of the German republic identified with a town called Weimar, let’s not forget).

Remember Vox Political‘s articles about chequebook euthanasia? That information has been sent to the Information Commissioner’s Office in support of the bid to have the Freedom of Information request on ESA claimant fatalities since November 2011 honoured at last; and it has been sent to the Commons Work and Pensions committee, whose investigation into the effects of withdrawing benefit from claimants began in earnest this morning (January 7).

There is a deadly serious (and the word ‘deadly’ is used advisedly) side to Tom Pride’s tweet; there usually is.

However, UKIP supporter ‘Guy Ropes’ sent this blog the following comment today: “Is it correct that a Labour councillor in the Midlands has tweeted an alteration to a Conservative poster that is so insensitive I’d be disappointed if you even tried to talk about it much less defend it. Thankfully his branch have suspended him. I’m not sure – even if they tried really, really hard – that the BNP could conceive of something so tasteless. So how about calling a truce – instead of slagging people and parties off, let’s stick to discussion of policies.”

The problem here is misinformation. The councillor is accused of creating the tweet (and gets a sex change in the process). The tweet is described as tasteless, indicating the commenter has not considered the serious points on which this article has elaborated. And there will be no truce because no hostilities have been declared. It seems Mr ‘Ropes’ has an issue with this blog’s policy of debunking false claims – such as those in his comment.

So, yes – Cllr Healy showed an error of judgement and should not have RT’d the tweet, given her position; and no – the tweet itself is not “insensitive” or “tasteless” in itself – in the judgement of this writer.

We need bloggers like Tom Pride to bring these connections to our attention.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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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.

Osborne’s cuckooland claims could leave a terrifying legacy

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‘Jeffrey’ Osborne sings for his supper at some CBI dinner.

Try not to choke on your coffee: George Osborne reckons the British economy is “out of intensive care”.

Now, he says, the task is to “secure the recovery”.

He’s starting on Wednesday with cuts totalling £11.5 billion which, once fiscal multipliers are taken into account, means a contraction of around £20 billion in the national economy.

Securing the recovery. Good luck with that, Gideon.

The good news is that he is expected to announce investment in infrastructure projects, including roads, railways, education and science. He has realised – probably too late – that cutting all those infrastructure projects at the start of this Parliament was economic suicide and is trying to do something about it before everyone realises he’s an idiot. He is, of course, much too late for that but the investment – if it goes to well-advised places – might just do some good.

Don’t bank on it, though.

Osborne’s claims about the economy are based on statements that government borrowing has come down and employment is up – but we know that the first isn’t true and the second is not helping. In other words, he’s built his castle in the sand.

Government borrowing rose by £300 million in 2012-13, from £118.5 billion to £118.8 billion, according to the Office for National Statistics. That’s not a huge amount, you may think, but remember this government reckons it has cut borrowing by a third since taking power. That would put borrowing at around £100 billion right now, which is clearly inaccurate.

The debt is now £1.9 trillion, up from 1.1 trillion a year ago – 75.2 per cent of GDP, up from 71.1 per cent.

We all know what the problem is: Austerity – the self-perpetuating (and self-defeating) policy that will eventually bankrupt us all (but not the country. Because we have our own currency, the UK is unlikely ever to go bankrupt. You see, when the Tories told you that, they were lying).

The worst of it is that the other main political parties have signed up to the delusion that all these cuts might actually do some good.

Ed Miliband has ruled out more borrowing. That in itself is not a bad idea. But Ed Balls has admitted that he would follow Tory spending plans, at least for the first year of a Labour government, and there’s a consensus that pensioners will probably be the next defenceless social group to be hit with cuts – this time to benefits such as winter fuel payments.

They are talking among themselves. It seems unlikely that any of them has bothered to look out of the window to find out the real effect of their idiot schemes.

And so the agony continues. Based on an economic fallacy, perpetuated on the masses, while the very rich continue raking it in.

The longer this goes on, the greater the danger to us all.

A few simple ideas to save the UK economy (Part One)

Tax: Nobody likes paying it but progressive tax reform could be one of the fastest ways to rebalance the UK budget.

Tax: Nobody likes paying it but progressive tax reform could be one of the fastest ways to rebalance the UK budget.

It seems I have been challenged. Commenting on my post ‘Iain Duncan Smith – what went wrong?’, a correspondent calling himself ‘Brian’ suggested I should use “a little grey matter and suggest where to cut instead”.

This is a question that has exercised my intelligence for much of the last two years, ever since it dawned on me that the current Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition was not going to do anything at all to help the UK economy in real terms.

In fact we have seen them try to make it worse – look at Gideon George Osborne’s changes to tax laws, that make it easier for multinationals to put their profits into tax havens rather than pay the UK Treasury what it deserves; look at the way Workfare keeps unemployment artificially high; look at the proposals for a two-tier road tax system that will disproportionately affect small businesses.

In fairness, I haven’t updated my ideas over the 12 months since I have been writing the blog. What follows must stand as a document of what could have been done. I put together more than 20 ideas at the time. Some of them may be impractical now, due to the many and various incompetences of the current government. I will try to include the best.

This is looking like the first part of a series, as there is an amazing number of possibilities available. I’ll try to concentrate on just one issue at a time.

Here goes:

1. TAX

“What we need now is a deficit cutting policy aimed at increasing government income.

“There are three ways to achieve this. The first is for the government to stimulate a moribund economy by encouraging investment. This is the Keynesian solution that is proven to work. The second is to raise selective new taxes on those best able to pay them. This is possible. The third option is to tackle the tax gap.

“The tax gap has three parts. The first is tax avoidance. I estimate this to be about £25 billion a year. This arises from the exploitation of loopholes in UK tax law and between UK tax law and that of other states – especially tax havens. The second part is tax evasion – that is breaking the law. I estimate this to be £70 billion a year. H M Revenue & Customs claim it is much less, but their methodology for estimating anything but VAT evasion is very weak. Lastly, there is unpaid and late paid tax – currently according to H M Revenue & Customs at least £26 billion.

“Put these figures together and they come to more than £120 billion, or enough, at least in principle, to close the whole current government deficit.” – Richard Murphy, Director of Tax Research UK.

If we compare the estimate of the tax gap with the DWP estimate of benefit fraud, we can see that benefit fraud is less than 1 per cent of the total lost in the tax gap; tax is therefore far more important than welfare in the struggle to balance the UK budget book.

So the first measure must be to minimise personal and corporate tax avoidance by requiring tax havens to disclose information fully and changing the definition of ‘tax residence’; these two reforms are estimated minimally to yield £10 billion.

Introduce a 50 per cent Income Tax band for gross incomes above £100,000. This reform introduces a new 50 per cent band of Income Tax for taxable incomes above £94,000 per year (approximately £100,000 a year gross income). This would raise £4.7 billion compared with the 2009/10 tax system, or an extra £2.3 billion compared with introducing this band at £150,000 as proposed by the previous chancellor. (The Coalition has lowered the previously-existing 50 per cent band to 45 per cent, giving a £40,000 tax break to the richest in society when the UK economy needs the money far more than they do).

Introduce minimum tax rates. This reform introduces a lower limit to effective rates of Income Tax above certain levels of gross income. As gross income approaches each threshold, the personal allowance and other reliefs (for example, tax relief on pension contributions) are ‘clawed back’ at a high marginal rate until the average tax rate – as well as the marginal tax rate – on income above each threshold is equal to tax rates of 40 per cent and 50 per cent on incomes of above £100,000 and £150,000 respectively. Such a reform raises an additional £14.9 billion.

Introduce a special lower tax band of 10 per cent below the poverty line (below £13,500 per annum), while restoring the ‘basic rate’ to 22 per cent – in order not to hit the poorest hardest. This costs £11.5 billion, far less than the extra tax take outlined above.

Uncap National Insurance Contributions (NICs) so they are paid at 11 per cent all the way up the income scale (continuing to exempt pensioners). In 2009/10, employee NICs were payable at 11 per cent from £100 a week up to £884 per week – and at just 1 per cent above this level. Self-employed NICs have an equivalent structure based on annual profits, paid at 8 per cent up to profits of £43,875 and then at 1 per cent above this. Also, unearned income (for example, income from investments and savings) is not subject to NICs. This reform removes the upper threshold so that employee NICs are payable at 11 per cent on all earnings above £884 per week for employees and at 8 per cent on all profits above £5,715 per year for the self-employed. Additionally, all investment income above £110 per week (or the annualised equivalent) is made liable to NICs at 11 per cent. This results in further revenue of £9.1 billion; thus uncapping NICs would rake in a great deal of money. It would also turn NICs into a flat tax, making it ‘merely regressive’ rather than ‘über regressive’.

Increase the tax payable (higher multipliers) for houses in Council Tax bands E to H. This would raise a further £4.2 billion.

£5bn could be raised every year with an Empty Property Tax on vacant dwellings which exacerbate housing shortages and harm neighbourhoods.

Urge that all current small limited companies be re-registered as limited liability partnerships to simplify their administration and reduce opportunities for tax avoidance.

These measures alone are likely to bring at least £34 billion into the UK Treasury every year.

Tax and tax avoidance: Osborne’s attack on small businesses

The Madness of George: Mr Osborne’s latest attack is on the smaller businesses and sole traders who prop up the UK’s economy. Does he understand nothing at all about his job?

It seems George Osborne wants to focus his next attack on the small businesses of the UK – the firms that form the vast majority of the nation’s business base.

Lunacy, you might say. Craziness. You may ask why he would want to do such a thing, and what evidence I have to suggest it.

Well, let’s start with the letters going out to 1,500 people suspected of taking part in a tax avoidance scheme – which is currently legal, although the BBC report suggests its legality will be challenged. These people are suspected of depriving the Treasury of £10 billion per year.

The National Audit Office said HM Revenue and Customs was dealing with a backlog of 41,000 cases of aggressive tax avoidance involving individuals and small companies.

That’s all very interesting. Why not write to the shareholders of the Thames, Anglian and Yorkshire Water companies, whose tax avoidance history received an airing in the press and on this blog very recently? The evidence suggested they were removing a combined total of £1 billion per year to tax havens offshore and, to me, it seems far simpler to write letters to three companies, and investigate them, than to 150 individuals.

Could it be because the water companies were exploiting tax loopholes that had been created especially for them, and other large businesses, by Mr Osborne himself in 2011?

Could it be that shareholders in those large concerns might also be donating money to the Conservative Party? Attacking them would be the political equivalent of self-harming, if that were the case.

So the focus of attack goes down to the smaller business or sole trader.

Were you aware that Mr Osborne is considering changing road tax rules, to introduce a new two-tier system?

It seems he wants to create a class system for the roads, in which second-class citizens will be licensed to use the smaller roads, while first-class citizens will be able to pay for the extra tax disc, entitling them to use the motorways.

I see that as an attack – on the private driver, yes, but also on the small businessperson. Think about it. Small businesses can spend a lot of time on the roads, zipping around between jobs. An extra expense on the balance sheet could be the difference between being a profitable concern and going under.

At a time when the UK is relying on small and start-up businesses to re-ignite the economy, this is nothing short of madness.

But then, when’s the last time anyone ever suggested George Osborne had sense?