Chancellor maintains status quo on fuel duty but ignores driver shortages

Prior to the Budget: Richard Burnett leads a delegation to Downing Street to petition in support of funding to help train new drivers

In delivering the first Tory Budget in 19 years the Chancellor of the Exchequer offered a limited response to the demands of the road haulage sector.

While George Osborne’s decision to continue the freeze on fuel duty received what can be described as a considered welcome, amid rumours of a potential hike, the industry was disappointed by the lack of financial support to help haulage companies to recruit and train truck drivers.

In the build up to his statement in the House of Commons, FairFuelUK had again pressed the Chancellor to deliver a real-terms cut in fuel duty of three pence per litre.  Such a measure would not only benefit motorists and businesses alike but, as the campaign’s accepted research has proved, assist in the generation of jobs and boost economic growth.

Howard Cox, founder of the FairFuelUK campaign, commented: “It is good news there is no increase in fuel duty that was predicted by many experts.  Thousands and thousands of FairFuelUK supporters lobbied their MPs and the Treasury with pleas to recognise that increasing duty would contract the economy.

“FairFuelUK's campaigning continues to make a difference.  But it remains perplexing that the Treasury still will not cut duty.  An approach they recognised in March 2014 actually benefits the economy.  We will continue to argue in Westminster that just freezing duty is preventing higher growth levels in GDP and the creation of even more jobs because the Chancellor does not have the courage to cut this punitive levy.”

One of the campaign’s supporting organisations, the Freight Transport Association (FTA) expressed the view that ‘common sense prevailed’ over the continued freeze on fuel duty, but also vowed to continue to campaign for cuts on behalf of its members.

FTA’s deputy chief executive, James Hookham, said: “The Chancellor has listened to the voice of industry by keeping fuel duty at current levels, which is to be welcomed.  However, the Government has emphasised that its primary objective is to protect the UK economy.

“We believe that reducing fuel duty would make a huge contribution to this objective and we will continue to campaign with FairFuelUK for a three pence per litre cut in order to stimulate economic growth.”

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) also welcomed the Chancellor’s decision to freeze fuel duty and, as with previous Budgets during the coalition administration, had urged him to be bolder.

The RHA’s chief executive, Richard Burnett, stated: “The freeze on fuel duty continues the very positive policy of the last government and will give a massive boost to business confidence not only in the road haulage industry but the economy as a whole.

“We would have preferred a three pence a litre cut in duty, to boost both jobs and growth but it was essential that duty was not increased.  Our hauliers already pay by far the highest diesel duty in the EU and twice as much as many of our competitors.”

On a more downbeat note, the RHA has voiced its concern that Mr Osborne’s failure to deliver financial measures to support the UK’s road haulage industry to recruit and train truck drivers will undermine the economic recovery.  Prior to the Budget Richard Burnett led a delegation to Downing Street to petition for funding to help address the isssue.

Mr Burnett confirmed: “In his Spring Budget George Osborne recognised the shortage of HGV drivers and pledged action to help.  This Budget does nothing to help solve the crisis, despite strong representation from across the industry.  He has even failed to support the structure put in place by the RHA and JobCentre+ to get unemployed people into driving.

“By the end of 2016 we will be some 60,000 drivers short if action is not taken now.  We are working hard to address the problem and we have a quality process in place for getting unemployed people work experience in the industry and if suitable, a route into full time employment.  This scheme is called Driving Britain’s Future but this alone will not solve the problem.  We need specific targeted funding before it is too late.

“The RHA will continue to work closely with the Treasury and other government departments to ensure the Chancellor keeps to the pledge made in the March Budget.”