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The Government’s charm offensive

Written by | Posted on 29.02.2016

You know us, we like to spot a trend – and we’ve spotted a good one recently. It concerns the Government’s policies towards motorists, which aren’t just coming more regularly than before, but also appear to be getting more generous. Just consider what we’ve had since just before Christmas:

  • Fewer road works for Christmas… A couple of weeks before Christmas, the Transport Secretary announced that 400 miles’ worth of road works would be removed from English motorways ahead of the holiday itself. Some of these works have since been reinstated, but the majority of them were simply brought to completion. It was a nice present for those motorists who usually regard the season of goodwill as the season of terrible tailbacks.
  • …and fewer road works all year round… Clearer roads aren’t just for Christmas, it seems. Patrick MacLoughlin has since unveiled new proposals to have road works continue at weekends, so that they finish sooner and inconvenience motorists for less time. And, what’s more, councils could face fines of up to £5,000 if those works are left unmanned.
  • …except where they’re needed. There’s a slight irony to all this, insofar as some of the Government’s other policies, such as their £15 billion scheme for renovating Britain’s road network, actually require road works. These projects continue, of course, and now there are some others too. £40 million has been provided to help repair roads in Cumbria and Lancashire that were damaged from flooding after the recent storms.
  • Money for the future. £40 billion has been provided elsewhere too: to help eight cities fund schemes for encouraging the uptake of electric cars. And another £20 million has been found to help develop the technology for driverless cars. This may not exactly be a vote-winner with current motorists, but the country’s infrastructure is, in many respects, bigger than the next election. It’s good to see the Government thinking of the future in this way.
  • The end of the traffic warden. And how about this for a headline? ‘Traffic wardens to be abolished.’ It’s news that will cheer many motorists, although it ought to be remembered that traffic wardens are people too – and they face the prospect of job losses. It’s also worth remembering that parking tickets and fines won’t be disappearing. The powers enjoyed by traffic wardens are simply being passed on to police volunteers.

The Government has gone out of its way to appeal to motorists before now: indeed, during the last Parliament, George Osborne forewent £billions of tax revenue to keep fuel duty down. But these latest policies are cheaper and, perhaps because of that, more constant. It feels like a coordinated plan. The question is: what is the plan?

We recently wondered whether the Chancellor would be tempted to raise fuel duty in 2016. Perhaps all these recent gifts are a way of sweetening that bitter pill.

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