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State Of Roads vs. Tax

State Of Roads vs. Tax


Automotive Journalist and featured author for Swansway Group, John Swift gives his opinion on the state of current roads and the latest road tax updates.

I don't know about you, but few things, as a driver, infuriate me more than endless road works and the shameful state of our highways

On second thoughts, make that anything...

We pay many billions – £40 billion and counting - to the chancellor in fuel tax, insurance premium tax, VAT on every car or service we buy, in fines, driving test fees and so on and what do we get in return? Relatively nothing and the result is seen and felt every day and every time we take to our pockmarked and broken roads.

According to the latest Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance survey (or ALARM, and no, you couldn’t make that up) about a fifth of our roads are in a `poor’ condition. I don’t know where the surveys were done because I would have thought it was the other way around – only a fifth of surfaces were not `poor’.

The government says it is pumping £1.2 billion into a fund councils can use to pay for patching up potholes which sounds extremely generous except that councils say they need £12 billion and the remedial work will take 12 years - at least - to get them to an acceptable standard.

So that means 2030 or so at the earliest and if my experience of local government is anything to go by it will cost a lot more and be delivered a lot later.

The cost of our crumbling roads is enormous, however you measure it. Using the government’s own figures, the amount it paid in compensation and staffing costs to administer them last year was £7.9 million. The cost of filling one pothole was £46…anyone remember that old adage, a stitch in time saves nine?

Only recently a Ferrari owner won £10,000 after taking a local authority (Peterborough) to the small claims court for damage to the suspension and wheels  of his car caused by a pothole. Increasingly many more are taking this route too.

We are all paying for it though, be that in longer journeys because of road works repairing worn out surfaces or direct damage to our vehicles.

The government will quite rightly point out that the vast majority of roads were simply never designed or engineered to cope with the huge rise in traffic and that their life span has been severely shortened as a result.

Maybe, maybe not but either way the volume of cars, vans and lorries all competing for road space has grown far beyond what was envisaged when they were first laid down.

But if that is the problem, what is the solution and more to the point, what is being done to achieve it?

Clearly there is money for transport as the HS2 railway and the £56 billion budget earmarked for it prove.

But to my mind a lot more people will continue to rely on the roads for their means of transport than the relatively few passengers able to afford an HS2 ticket.

Given that, wouldn’t that £56 billion be better, more effectively and more fairly used laying down new tarmac instead of new tracks?

A final point to think on. Local government says it needs £12 billion or so just to stand still in terms of repairing roads. In 2014 the tax on petrol and diesel alone was £27 billion and you can put the VAT on top of that…

The issue is clear every day and getting worse. The money is there to sort it but is not being channelled to address it.

No wonder I’m motoring’s Mr. Angry.


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