AA Budget Submission

Motorists point the finger at tax-guzzlers

On the eve of the budget, AA research shows that four out of five UK drivers put making financial ends meet ahead of environmental concerns in their list of motoring priorities. This is despite a range of national and local politicians citing global warming as reason for imposing increased charges and taxes on car owners.

Asking 2,250 drivers to rate their concern with five key motoring issues, a recent survey conducted by YouGov on behalf of AA Public Affairs found the level of concerned or greatly concerned to be:

  1. Cost of motoring – 83%
  2. State of the roads – 73%
  3. The environment – 67%
  4. 'Big brother' fears – 57%
  5. Risk of death or injury – 50%

The view that any increase in the cost of the motoring is the government's fault is so entrenched that 53 per cent blamed it for last year's fuel price rises and 67 per cent said the Treasury profited most from them. This is despite runaway prices being largely outside the control of a government that had frozen fuel duty rises for three years, until imposing an inflationary 1.25 pence per litre lift in December.

"The UK motorist is more likely to buy into the tax-guzzler argument than the gas-guzzler justification for raising taxes," says Paul Watters, head of AA Public Affairs.

"This isn't entirely the government's fault, with local authorities using global warming to justify often massive increases in local motoring taxes on the grounds of CO2 reduction – even though toxic emissions, not carbon dioxide, are the pollutants that impact directly on the urban environment."

The AA recognises the need for motorists to contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions. Indeed, with 5.8 million extra cars on UK roads compared to a decade ago, government figures show that CO2 emissions are almost the same as they were in the early 1990s. Incentives and guidance on switching to cleaner cars, with time to budget for a change, are the way forward, not relentlessly punishing car owners at national and local level for running vehicles their circumstances require, whether large families, rural drivers or businesses.

"What really rammed home the need for balance was one council's plan for a 200 per cent increase in residential parking permit charges on grounds of reducing CO2 emissions. Their survey of residents found that, even in this affluent area, 42 per cent of households didn't have a single energy-saving light bulb in the home," Watters adds.

To restore some balance to the debate on incentivising a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from cars, the AA's budget submission to the Chancellor called for:

1. A review of the road tax band G

Used by local authorities as the benchmark for punishing so-called gas-guzzlers, even though people carriers and large family estates are swept up in group G. The AA wants to see the emissions threshold raised from 226 grams of CO2 per kilometre to 250, or the creation of a band H for highest level of CO2 emissions. This would allow car owners whose family and other needs require larger cars to choose cleaner models within the range.

2. Dropping the road tax surcharge on diesel

Diesel cars are around 20 per cent more efficient than petrol cars and produce correspondingly less CO2 and new diesel cars meet the highest pollution standards. As a reward for investing £1,000 extra when buying new diesel cars compared to petrol versions, the AA believes that the £10 surcharge on most models should be removed.

3. No further increases in fuel duty this year

With petrol prices already around 90 pence per litre, a further increase within 12 months of the last, while fuel prices remain volatile and inflationary, would simply reinforce driver concern and prejudice against the government.

4. A strategy on biofuels

The AA warns against a repetition of the Liquid Petroleum Gas debacle, when companies invested millions of pounds to provide and drive with a supposedly cleaner fuel, only for the government to change its mind and raise the duty on the fuel and remove incentive grants. Car buyer and fleet manager planning would benefit from a strategy on the introduction of biofuels and timescales for incentives.

5. A commitment on transport expenditure

In December's pre-budget report, the Chancellor announced £9.6 billion expenditure on transport, compared to the £14 billion set out in the government's own 10-year investment plan. The AA calls for spending to get back on track to ease congestion and provide the promised integrated transport system.


20 March 2007