Road Haulage Association

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RHA campaigns: a long agenda

By the time you read this we will probably know – or have a good indication – what the Chancellor is doing about fuel duty. And I can only say that a tremendous amount of work has been done to carry forward the great campaigning successes of 2011 into this year.

Whatever happens, we must not lose sight of the fact that the RHA’s involvement and support for FairFuelUK has been a resoundingly effective political lobby, with a number of proposed increases in duty being dropped or postponed and a real reduction being achieved.

But our campaigning is not restricted to fuel duty – important thought that undoubtedly is. In fact, the RHA has a very long list of issues that are being tackled and we are making progress on most fronts. Space does not allow me to mention everything, nor to give full details of the topics that are referred to. Members are kept up-to-date on progress in a variety of ways, including our on-going programmes of members’ meetings around the country, e-newsletters from both the regions and Weybridge and, of course, ROADWAY. I urge all members to read as much of this as possible, so you are kept in the know. In no particular order, here are some of the things we are dealing with, together with a short note of the current situation:

On lorry charging we are supporting the latest proposals: indeed, we would like to see them brought in sooner rather than later. We know this does not fully resolve the ‘level playing field’ but it is a step in the right direction.

In London, we are working with Transport for London (TfL) to ensure that members’ interests are taken fully into account in planning for the Olympics and we believe that everything possible is being done to tackle the obvious challenges we will face during the coming summer.

We are also working with TfL to address the real difficulties that arise from trucks sharing congested streets with cyclists. The tragic loss of life that can occur seriously affects everyone involved, and we hope that all interested parties will work together to find effective ways forward.

Also in London, we are considering if and how the FORS scheme might be developed, without simply adding to the administrative burden that all hauliers face.

Another problem being addressed is the wide-ranging area of driver skills, training and recruitment. This is a longer term issue in some respects, as the fact that many more drivers are leaving the industry than are passing LGV tests will not have an immediate impact on members, but when economic growth returns, there is every chance that recruitment will not be simply a matter of waiting for drivers to come knocking on your door.

Finally, there are two issues in the recovery industry that are being tackled: hard shoulder safety and statutory fees. Neither is going to be resolved overnight, but we will make sure that progress is made.

Charging Heavy Goods Vehicles

The above headline is the title of a recently published consultation document in which the DfT puts forward its proposals to impose new charges on all heavy goods vehicles in excess of 12 tonnes GVW. It is a key part of the government’s commitment to take steps to level the playing field between UK and non-UK hauliers and is therefore welcome.

The charges will be graduated according to the existing bands for Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) purposes, ranging from £85 to a vehicle in band A to £1,000 for vehicles in band G (these are typically 2+3, maximum weight artics). The rate for a 3+3, six-axle artic will be £640.

Most importantly, the consultation document spells out the government’s commitment to ensure that any HGV user charge imposes no additional cost overall for the greatest possible number of UK road transport operators. In doing so, they have to work within the legal framework imposed by European Union (EU) rules. The proposal suggests that in introducing the new charges for all trucks over 12 tonnes GVW, the current rates of VED for UK trucks will be reduced to at, or just above, the minimum levels dictated by the EU. By linking the new charge to the existing system of VED, it will minimise the administrative burden on UK operators by allowing the application and payment processes for both to be aligned.

The RHA has been concerned for some years about the impact of foreign trucks on the UK haulage industry, has repeatedly drawn government attention to the volume of foreign trucks on our roads, and has drawn both public and political attention to the fact they contribute little or nothing to the cost of providing and maintaining our road network. This unfairness has continued for far too long and the proposed new charging regime is a welcome first step. But it is no more than a first step which will impose some charges of non-UK trucks and will therefore add to the costs of our foreign competitors, while not adversely affecting our members.
In considering this proposal, we are mindful of the EU’s Transport White Paper: Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area – Towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system which proposes wide-ranging changes which could result in compatible road charging systems, harmonised EU rules and a restructuring of fuel taxes, as well as seeking the abolition of all restrictions on cabotage and improvements to the core network of principal routes across Europe. Such moves are controversial to say the least, but they are the way the European Commission is thinking.
Needless to say, the RHA is monitoring progress on these proposals very carefully and will be seeking government support if we see measures being brought forward that will disadvantage our members.

Deliver UK: long list of concerns

The price of oil and the high level of duty continue to cause high fuel prices in the UK, which bring many challenges for RHA members. With RHA support FairFuel UK will continue to campaign, building on the substantial foundations established in the first three months of this year.

A key element of the success of that campaign was the significant number of MPs (over 140) who signed up to support our aims and it was very encouraging to hear that quite a few RHA members had written, e-mailed or met their MP. The next step is to build on that by consolidating the contact made and widening the agenda to cover the many other issues that the road haulage industry wants to see addressed.

In broad outline, and in no particular order, our campaigning is being taken forward in respect of standards and enforcement, vehicle utilisation and efficiency, roads and congestion, customer and modal choice, parking and security, carbon measurement and reporting and reducing red tape. The detail takes up many pages, but these are all issues that must be addressed if the commercial and regulatory environment in which we operate is to be improved.

One encouraging point is the sympathetic hearing we are receiving from the government. Across departments, particularly the Departments for Transport and Business Innovation and Skills, we are gathering clear evidence of the problems and explaining practical solutions that address concerns in both industry and government. We are not going to get our own way in every case, but well constructed arguments supported by established facts can and will win the day.

With that in mind, it was a pleasure to welcome Mike Penning, the Minister for Freight, who accepted an RHA invitation to attend the recent Commercial Vehicle Show at the NEC and to visit a number of exhibitors. The show was a great success, with a substantial increase in exhibition space and visitor numbers compared with last year’s CV Operators’ Show.

It was also a real pleasure to see so many members on our stand and to chat with them about their concerns and views. We also welcomed a wide range of people, including a small delegation from Australia, including the chief executive of the Victorian Trucking Association and the organiser of the International Truck Trailer and Equipment Show, which takes place in Melbourne. They were very impressed by everything they saw and heard: a real compliment from genuinely independent observers. It was a great three days and we really look forward to next year.

Five pence relief – the war on fuel duty goes on

The price of fuel you are buying today is five pence per litre lower than it might have been due to the campaigning work of the RHA and its partners through FairFuel UK.

This saving is because of the cancellation of the ‘escalator’ of one pence, the postponement of an inflation rise of three pence and the reduction in duty level of one pence. It is a great victory for the industry.

It has to be said, though, that the price of fuel is still high and might go higher, and the rate of duty in the UK is still much higher than most of Europe, so this represents the winning of a battle – the war on fuel duty goes on.

One central feature of the FairFuel UK campaign was the number of MPs who signed up to support us (more than 140) and that was largely as a result of individuals contacting their MPs demanding action. The government clearly felt enormous pressure which led them to act. Having built this firm foundation of support in Parliament, we must build on it and keep the momentum going. RHA members are rightly sceptical about letters to MPs, but I have an excellent example of why this is so important. At the height of the campaign to canvas MP support, I wrote to an MP who I know has an interest in the road haulage industry setting out the RHA’s concerns. His reply was: “I’d be happy to reply in detail about my views on this (or any other issue for that matter) to any member of the RHA who lives in [the constituency]. The best way to get answers from MPs is not for us to receive emails like the attached but to hear directly from our constituents.” Needless to say, we have arranged for a number of his constituents to write to him.

It is also important to stress that any members willing to put pressure on their MPs will get full support from the RHA. Our staff will help members, including attending meetings and preparing briefing papers. You are not alone and the combined strength of the RHA and its members can become a powerful political voice in Whitehall and Westminster.

Yes, the price of fuel is still high and causing problems for many members and their customers. Yes, the level of fuel duty is still too high, and is the primary cause of the high price of diesel in the UK. And yes, the price of fuel is not the only issue the RHA must tackle, but at long last we have implemented a concerted and effective, industry-wide campaign and ensured that the government doesn’t just listen, it acts. The fight goes on!

April 2011  RHA Chief Executive – Geoff Dunning

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