Last week, David Cameron announced a £15bn government programme to improve and develop the road infrastructure of the UK. This investment, should it happen following a Conservative win at the next general election, would focus on key problem roads that often see congestion and delays. Undoubtedly a positive announcement for transport operators, any support for the industry from government must not be un-done by increases in fuel duty.
The efforts to reduce the UK’s deficit by the current coalition government has effected many facets of life across the country. For the transport industry, a major impact has been on the state of the road network, with potholes and poor surfaces causing delays and damage to vehicles. This has reduced vehicle uptime and the utilisation of operator fleets – two key areas that directly affect profitability.
The period of deficit reduction has also seen a slowdown in the investment of new roads and the improvements of existing routes, as the government makes cuts where it can to follow the economic plan laid out. As the UK road network becomes busier, this lack of investment has impacted on journey times for transport operators.
So given this lack of maintenance and investment in infrastructure, the announcement from David Cameron is certainly a positive move, and welcome news for an industry under increasing pressure from a number of directions, around operating costs, a shortage of drivers and the need for ever greater efficiency and utilisation.
What is essential then is that any support given by one hand is not taken away by the other. I am of course referring the issue of fuel duty, which the FairFuel UK campaign continues to campaign around in terms of no increases, but also a 3p reduction to aid the transport industry.
Any rise in fuel duty would immediately be felt not only by motorists, but most keenly by transport operators whose fuel costs are a major factor in whether a company is sustainable, let alone profitable. Any increase would hugely impact the bottom line of all operators, adding increased pressure to an industry that is the very lifeblood of the UK economy.
We are already seeing pressures manifest this Christmas, in light of recent reports of some retail stores not being able to receive stock due to a lack of available drivers. Further pressures are certainly not needed.
The FairFuel UK campaign has lobbied for a 3p reduction in fuel duty for good reason, with evidence suggesting that a reduction would in fact boost the UK economy rather than detract through a reduction in the tax collected by the treasury. Reductions would allow operators to invest in the training of new drivers, invest in their fleets and develop green technologies that would benefit themselves and the country in the long-term. This in itself would see the development of new technologies and the associated infrastructure around the UK, for example in filling points for trucks running on dual fuels.
For many reasons, any rise in UK fuel duty would be detrimental to the transport industry, and while the announcement from the Prime Minister is an encouraging sign of support, it is critical that the government recognises the fundamental role that transport operators play in the economy, and in fact have played in the recovery seen to date.
David Cameron, or more pertinently, George Osbourne, must not inhibit the development of the industry by adding unnecessary costs and pressures, especially now when they are not needed the most.