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Motoring’s most out­spo­ken and opin­ion­ated colum­nist sounds off

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Mike Ruther­ford on how Bud­get could have helped driv­ers more

AS a for­mer Trans­port Sec­re­tary, Philip Ham­mond knows all about driv­ers, the ve­hi­cles they use, high­ways they drive and frus­tra­tions they en­dure. What’s more, he’s more aware than most that we driv­ers cough up £165mil­lion a day in road-user tax­a­tion (ve­hi­cles, fuel, ve­hi­cle in­sur­ance, etc), tolls, du­ties, levies and other iffy charges. This £60bil­lion per an­num goes di­rect to HM Trea­sury – a de­part­ment he now runs as Chan­cel­lor.

I was ex­pect­ing – and thank­fully, heard – a largely driver-friendly Bud­get speech from him last week. True, he broke tax­a­tion prom­ises pre­vi­ously pub­lished in his Con­ser­va­tive party man­i­festo, although he didn’t give mo­torists the sort of bru­tal kick­ing they’ve suf­fered in the past.

But with so many com­par­a­tively cheap and easy fixes des­per­ately needed on the roads – pot­hole re­pairs, white line re­paint­ing, sign re­place­ment – why in­stead de­cree tax­pay­ers must spend hun­dreds of mil­lions fund­ing the de­vel­op­ment of bat­ter­ies for elec­tric cars? Surely the lethar­gic but lu­cra­tive bat­tery in­dus­try should be pay­ing for such im­prove­ments?

It’s a sim­i­lar story with the de­vel­op­ment of elec­tric and driver­less ve­hi­cles to which Ham­mond is com­mit­ting hun­dreds of our mil­lions; the mo­tor man­u­fac­tur­ing cor­po­ra­tions should be work­ing on these at their ex­pense, not ours. The Bri­tish Gov­ern­ment couldn’t (or wouldn’t) stump up the cash to save Rover and Long­bridge. Toy­ota in Bur­nas­ton and Swin­don’s Honda, plus oth­ers who make pop­u­lar cars in Bri­tain, are get­ting nowt in state hand-outs. Yet ‘de­vel­op­ers’ of un­con­ven­tional equiv­a­lents are be­ing heav­ily sub­sidised. Is this fair – or le­gal?

The Chan­cel­lor’s £690m “com­pe­ti­tion” for lo­cal au­thor­i­ties to tackle ur­ban con­ges­tion is equally bonkers. If there are prizes to be had, why are they go­ing to of­ten ‘anti-car’ coun­cils? Re­wards for mo­torists sub­mit­ting much-needed con­ges­tion so­lu­tions would be prefer­able, as would a road in­fra­struc­ture im­prove­ment pro­gramme the Gov­ern­ment’s own re­search proves is des­per­ately needed.

And why, oh why, did he fur­ther de­mor­alise world-class Brit work­ers by telling us we’re 35 per cent be­hind the Ger­mans in pro­duc­tiv­ity terms? It’s an in­sult. And, just like the man­i­festo promise of “no in­creases” in Na­tional In­sur­ance con­tri­bu­tions, it’s a lie.

Why did Chan­cel­lor Ham­mond de­cree tax­pay­ers must spend mil­lions fund­ing elec­tric car bat­tery de­vel­op­ment?

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