When political parties are in opposition it is easy for them to make promises no matter how pie in the sky they may be. Vote for us and sixteen year old’s will all earn £20 per hour! On your child’s birthday a unicorn will visit with a fairy princess! And so on. How many people remain so gullible as to believe anything any opposition politician of any party tells them? Quite a lot, it seems. Why the next thing you’ll know they will be turning up and speechifying at music festivals! The very idea.
Taking A Toll
So when such a promise is made we should live in hope rather than expectation. Once ‘in power’ (as they like to say) the economics of the times bring a cold shower of reality to their hot-blooded dreams. This is why The Freight Transport Association (FTA) has had to call upon the Government to guarantee its pre-election promise to remove all charges on the Severn Bridges.
The two bridges spanning the Severn Estuary on the M4 and M48 motorways in and out of Wales have the highest toll charges on the entire UK road network. This represents a massive burden on road haulage businesses who have seen year-on-year price increases, costing the sector millions of pounds, we learn.
It is irksome enough for private car drivers to have to stump up £6.70 to visit Wales, especially when any alternative free route into South Wales is so convoluted. Currently it costs £20 for an HGV to cross into Wales and £13.40 for a van (Note: it costs nothing to escape back across the border). Road haulage is a vital part of the UK economy and it would seem fair and right that the government keep their promise pronto.
The FTA says a clear commitment from the Government to scrap any future charges is essential to provide certainty for business and deliver economic benefit to the whole area. Ian Gallagher, FTA Head of Policy for Wales and the South West, said: “Removal of tolls on the Severn Bridges has been a key FTA priority for many years, so the election commitment by all parties to end the charges was welcome. FTA members are now looking for a firm guarantee from the Government to deliver on this promise to deliver much needed revenue to business at a time when inflationary pressure continues to grow.” Quite right too.
Taking The Mickey
Apparently, the administration of the two bridges at the Severn Crossing is due to revert to central government control at the end of this year or in early 2018, when toll charging will automatically end. However, a new charging system is currently planned to replace the tolls and the FTA says the Government must make an announcement to scrap charges altogether at the first opportunity.
This unnecessarily high cost of doing business in Wales has been recognised by the industry as a barrier to inward investment by FTA members and their customers, and puts Welsh freight operators at a disadvantage when tendering for business in England and this at a time when business needs as much encouragement to grow as possible and keep Britain trading.
The spectre of tolls doesn’t really end there either. You might remember that a few short years ago the idea of newly built toll motorways was put forward and much debated. It didn’t go down well and, as events have overtaken it, the subject seems to have been quietly dropped but the question has to be asked, “Has it truly gone away”?
Motorists are financially caned at every opportunity by national and local government. They always come back with excuses but we know full well it is just cynical fund-raising from an easy target. Everyone knows all the different ways this is accomplished from increases to VED through unreasonable parking charges. We don’t need tolls added to the final bill. In the same way that the FTA suffers under the burden of taxes and tolls, so do ‘ordinary, hard-working families’. Geoff Maxted