Headlines: November 5th, 2004

The government is being urged today to ‘grasp the nettle of roads policy’ and to invest more of the income it gets from motorists into the highways infrastructure. A new report – ‘The Road Fact File 2004′ – says British drivers are paying more than any others in Europe but get one of the least adequate road systems in return.The report comes from the Road Users’ Alliance. One of its member bodies, the RAC Foundation, is calling for greater investment in the country’s infrastructure, ‘before it grinds to a standstill.

Figures in the report show Britain’s major road network has increased by less than one per cent over the last decade, during which time the volume of traffic has grown by 36 per cent on motorways. It says that in 2002-2003 government spending on the rail infrastructure exceeded investment in roads, even though 90 per cent of all passenger travel is by road and only 6.5 per cent by rail.

The Fact File finds that motorists in the UK pay a total of more than 42 billion pounds to the Government in taxation, made up of 22.1 billion in fuel duty, almost 5 billion in Vehicle Excise Duty, close to 7 billion pounds in VAT on vehicles, 5.6 billion in VAT on fuel and company car tax of just over 3 billion pounds. In addition, motorists pay another 75.2 billion pounds into the economy through their purchase of vehicles, fuel and basic running costs. Set against that, just 6.7 billion pounds was spent on UK roads infrastructure in 2003.

The report claims that our motorway network ranks among the least developed in Europe in terms of motorway network length to unit of Gross Domestic Product. Of the 15 countries covered in the report, only Ireland has fewer miles.

Edmund King, the executive director of the RAC Foundation said ordinary motorists would be shocked by the figures. “The Chancellor has had a huge windfall from VAT on fuel. In 2003 he raised 5.6 billion pounds. This year, with rising oil prices, that figure will probably be greater than the entire 6.7 billion pounds that is actually spent on roads,” he said. Earlier this year the RAC Foundation identified a list of urgently needed improvements to the strategic road network and said that at a cost of two billion pounds a year over ten years the programme would represent good value for money.

Now it says for the longer term, a comprehensive review is needed to establish priority objectives for the network over the next 30 to 50 years.