When George Osborne opens his battered red box next week and delivers his second budget, one thing will become abundantly clear: in transport policy, and indeed across Government, the motorist must be obeyed.
“We’re all in this together, unless you drive a car” is likely to be the unspoken mantra as the Government bows to significant popular pressure to reverse the planned 1p rise in fuel duty. Reversing the rise, due to take effect in April, would cost the Treasury about £500m – a significant chunk of cash to find from elsewhere. And it would be a deserved victory, in light of the real pressures motorists face and some impressive campaigning from the sector.
But given the soaring price of oil, it is not just the road transport industry that is crying for mercy. Airlines around the world are increasing their fuel surcharges, and planning major shifts in their flight plans to counter the new spike. Sadly, with turmoil spreading through North Africa and the Middle East, any downward pressure on oil prices appears a distant hope.
The aviation sector needs to work hard over the next few months to show the Government the scars on its back, and make the case for a policy to support the industry. Unfortunately, since the Government’s decision to scrap the planned third runway at Heathrow, one can make the argument that Philip Hammond’s aviation policy consists entirely of a train line – High Speed 2.
This new superfast London to Birmingham line is currently under consultation, and will continue to be touted as the Government’s great transport success story for months to come. In the meantime, those living along the affected route – not to mention the road, aviation and non-superfast rail lobbies – need to start working harder at ensuring the Government listens to their case.