Monday, August 18, 2014

Freight and Logistics Interests Note the Latest Promise to Stop Severn Crossing Tolls

Political Shenanigans Begin Prior to Election as Lib Dems Offer Deal on Road Pricing
Shipping News Feature

UK – As the political parties scrabble around prior to the forthcoming election, searching for policies which will have almost universal appeal and make headlines, without breaking the bank with unsustainable investment requirements, the Liberal Democrats have revived an old cherry long supported by all those in the freight and logistics sector and indeed by British industry as a whole, with the latest proposal to ban road tolls, this time on the Severn Crossings.

The party’s UK wide ‘Pre-Manifesto’ will contain a commitment to scrap the tolls at the next Parliament and with the Freight Transport Association’s (FTA) acknowledged stance that the tolls on the Severn bridges are an unfair burden on both businesses and commuters and must be scrapped as soon as possible, Ian Gallagher, FTA’s Head of Policy for Wales, where blood runs hot on the subject, commented:

“Scrapping the tolls would be a welcome shot in the arm for business and commuters who use the bridges daily. Scrapping them altogether would allow businesses to invest in the things that matter such as new vehicles and staff recruitment.

“FTA, working in partnership with its members, has been vocal in pressing for a reduction in tolls for many years. For them to be scrapped altogether would be a marvellous outcome - one which would be welcomed by hard-pressed businesses that rely on the crossing. We hope to see this policy included in all the main political party manifestos.”

Although welcoming the news of the Lib Dem plan to scrap tolls on the Severn Bridge as part of the September pre-manifesto, the Road Haulage Association is of the opinion that the devil will be in the detail. RHA Chief Executive Geoff Dunning commented:

“At the last election, the Lib Dems were all in favour of introducing an expensive charging system for logistics services to the UK economy. Of course we would be in favour of scrapping the current tolling regime as it would give a boost to the South Wales economy in particular and would greatly improve the transport communication links between England and Wales in general. However, we would not want to see this turn into a case of ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’. If the Lib Dems abolish the tolls there can be no instance whereby the subsequent financial loss is recouped in other areas – such as an increase in fuel duty. In addition, there must be continuity of the rigorous safety and maintenance standards currently in place.”  

The bridges, which are administered by Severn River Crossing Plc, are expected to revert back to public ownership in 2018. It is predicted that there is likely to be an outstanding amount of approximately £88 million on the bridges when that happens. Based on the current annual revenue this should be paid through charges in two years and quite possibly during 2019.

However, don’t get excited, we have been here before many times both on the Severn and the long running saga of the Dartford/Thurrock crossings on the Thames which maintain flow on the M25, and which have literally seen generations pass with a succession of empty promises from politicians of all hues, all of which have vanished into the early morning mists over the river as one tunnel turned to two and then the construction of the Queen Elizabeth ll bridge. Much of the political posturing has been listed on these pages many times in the past.

The Severn Bridge tolls are the most expensive in the UK, costing £6.40 for a car, £12.80 for a van and £19.20 for a coach or lorry and the commitment to scrap the tolls will come in the Liberal Democrats’ ‘Pre-Manifesto’, to be published in September. Denise Lovering, Chair of FTA’s Welsh Freight Council, said:

“The impact of the continued increase in the cost of the tolls on business, particularly transport and freight businesses, have been enormous and continue to be so. The tolls are a major factor in the lack of Regional Distribution Centres in Wales, and when you find out that the cost to some companies is in excess of £500,000 a year it doesn’t take much to understand what a boost to the economy the removal of the tolls would be. It would also signal that Wales is open for business and you don’t have to pay to come in.”

Although transport is vital to the UK economy we could find no suitable links on the Lib Dem website. Links to the historical duplicity of politicians on the matter of road pricing can be found on our News Search facility using suitable keywords.