Driving petition misconceived

FIRST I have a confession. I like driving.And another- I have quite a big car. I'm quite a big chap with a family, but it is a diesel and it does more than 40mpg so I feel as if I'm doing my bit.

FIRST I have a confession.

I like driving.

And another- I have quite a big car. I'm quite a big chap with a family, but it is a diesel and it does more than 40mpg so I feel as if I'm doing my bit.

But being an enthusiastic driver, I should sign the online petition on the Downing Street website against road charging - shouldn't I? No, you will not find my name on there - it is the most misconceived petition I have heard of for some time, whether it has one signature or one million.

The fact is that that if - and that is a huge if - it can be made to work, then road charging has to be the way forward for this country. I do have concerns about the idea. The main one is the unenviable record that the government has of fouling up every new computer system it has ever introduced.

I do worry that if road charging is introduced we will find ourselves charged for driving down Oxford Street at midday when you were actually driving from Tuddenham to Bealings!

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However if that problem can be avoided, then road charging is the way forward - especially if it means the end of the car road tax licence which remains a blunt instrument to cut pollution and congestion.

The main argument against road pricing seems to come from suited men in Mondeos and Vectras who tell us that they have to drive for work and from white van men who are prepared to jump on any bandwagon if it might involve them paying less tax.

"We have to drive! We'll end up paying more tax," they bleat.

Well, excuse me but if you use a service more, don't you expect to pay more? And after all the roads of this country are a service provided by the government, mainly through local authorities.

And if you want - or have - to drive at busy times, shouldn't you pay more? Commuters travelling by train to London at rush hours pay more than leisure travellers who leave their departure until after 10am.

If road charging persuades people to drive at 10.30am rather than joining the rush-hour at 8.30am, isn't that good for everyone? There is a real chance that with some intelligent motoring, many people - especially those living in a basically rural area like Suffolk - will end up paying less for the privilege of motoring than they do at the moment.

Of course the people promoting the petition won't tell you that. They want to scare motorists the length and breadth of the country into believing they will all be priced off the roads to persuade them to join their fight.

So before you sign up for this ill-conceived petition, just stop and think. Would road charging really cost you money?

And when all is said and done, isn't it right to make people pay more to pollute the atmosphere and drive at the most congested times?

One of the arguments we often here about changes to government tax-raising is: "It's just going into the general taxation pot."

I don't like paying taxes - but then I don't like paying the bill at the end of a good meal out and I don't live having to go through the checkout after filling my trolley at the end of a trip to the supermarket.

The fact is that if we want to have hospitals and schools. If we want roads to drive on. If we want to get pensions when we retire. If we want social services to help us out, then these things have to be paid for. And that money has to come from taxes.

There is still, deep in our subconscious, the idea that tax gatherers are something nasty - that there's still a touch of the Sheriff of Nottingham about people who collect taxes from us.

But the fact is that without these taxes there would not be the services that we rely on, so next time you moan about taxes think what you would like to do without - your doctor, your children's school . . . or your pension.

ALTHOUGH I like the idea of Ipswich getting its independence from the county council - even if it should be much larger than it is at present - I've always had doubts about whether the bid would ultimately be successful.

Ipswich's population isn't very different from that of Norwich and Oxford - and is larger than Exeter - but it doesn't really have the status of those cities.

But as the bid has progressed, the town's stature seems to have grown. And I can't help feeling that the community has grown under the most difficult circumstances over the last few months.

And as the bid continues to cross hurdles with ease, I'm really beginning to think that the powers will be must recognise that Ipswich has a superb case for unitary status.

The fact is that Ipswich now needs to be run by a local authority which is urban-focussed and recognises that the issues and challenges it faces are very different from those which are at the top of the agenda in the county as a whole.

Ipswich schoolchildren aren't bussed to school by the local authority. They catch an Ipswich Bus along with other residents. Ipswich doesn't need to worry about agriculture.

And Ipswich is hopelessly under-represented at the top level of the county council.

The town returned only one Conservative county councillor - who is not on the cabinet - and decisions affecting it are made by councillors from throughout the rural areas of Suffolk.

I have no doubt that the members of the county cabinet are genuine in their concern for Ipswich issues, but it is difficult for them to be seen to be concerned about town matters when the largest communities in their divisions are Kersey, Hoxne, and Honington.

If Ipswich does get its independence - which I am now thinking is a real possibility rather than a remote pipedream - then both the town and the county will benefit.

Ipswich council will have an urban focus and the county can concentrate on what it does best - running matters in best area of England.