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It’s time to see fuel duty go up to get us off the roads – or switch to cleaner cars

PUBLISHED: 05:30 05 March 2020 | UPDATED: 08:45 05 March 2020

The government needs to be prepared to take on potential fuel protests and increase duty - but will any politician have the courage to bite the bullet? Picture: STEFAN ROUSSEAU/PA

The government needs to be prepared to take on potential fuel protests and increase duty - but will any politician have the courage to bite the bullet? Picture: STEFAN ROUSSEAU/PA

This time next week we will all be digesting the news from Rishi Sunak’s first budget. At the same time officials in Suffolk will be starting to think about the new Ipswich traffic taskforce – and about ways of reducing traffic congestion.

There is one simple, and obvious, way for the Chancellor to help them in this endeavour - but I am totally, 100% confident that he will not have the courage to take the step that would help Ipswich and other towns and cities across the country.

It would also help the Treasury's coffers - and if handled in the right way could give a massive boost to efforts to cut carbon emissions across the country.

It's about time politicians had the guts to put up fuel duty steeply to make it more expensive to use private cars.

We should be looking at bringing back a fuel duty escalator to put up the fuel duty by double the inflation rate - or by inflation plus 2% whichever is lower. And frankly the Chancellor, and government as a whole, needs to be prepared to face down any threat from the fuel duty protesters who bullied the Labour government into a craven surrender on the subject back in the year 2000.

Times have moved on now. The threat of climate change has become more obvious. Everyone seems to accept the need to reduce the number of polluting vehicles on the road - yet politicians are too cowardly to take the single most effective action to bring that about.

It's one thing to "listen to the voters." This is total cowardice from a political class unprepared to tell an inconvenient truth that they know well.

If you raised fuel duty steeply, that should reduce the number of private vehicles on the road. That would reduce the danger of air pollution in urban hot-spots.

But it would be unlikely to dramatically cut the number of vehicles in the short term.

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What it would do would be to give the Treasury a funding boost that could be used to subsidise more clean public transport. If you can persuade 30 car drivers to use a single electric bus to get to work in the morning, that would be a real bonus.

The money could also be used to provide a really comprehensive network of electric charging points and subsidising the purchase of electric vehicles. It could also provide start-up funds to allow the mass-production of hydrogen vehicles and hydrogen fuel.

The other benefit of raising fuel duty is that it would not immediate force people off the roads. It would make driving a bit more expensive. It might make people consider other ways of making their journey. But in the end, if they had to drive they could.

I'm a driver. I do about 4,500-5,000 miles a year. Much of that is short journeys in Ipswich, visiting friends or relations who live in other parts of the region or visiting tourist attractions like National Trust properties and nature reserves.

Would a fuel increase change my behaviour? Probably not greatly.

But I accept some people do use cars much more and it would have a greater effect. But perhaps a fuel rise is what is needed to get them to think about this. Wouldn't it be better for delivery vehicles in urban areas to be electrically powered?

If you don't want to have to pay too much to commute from Framlingham, Saxmundham or Bury St Edmunds into Ipswich, isn't it worth taking public transport . . . or getting an electric vehicle - most have ranges of up to 200 miles these days and you can get a charging station installed at home.

Or even, dare I say, consider moving nearer to your work so you don't have a long commute. There are an increasing number of attractive homes, both houses and flats, being built in the heart of large towns or cities. There's nothing cheap or cramped about most of the apartments on Ipswich Waterfront!

The fact is we do have to make changes. The government is planning to ban the sale of NEW internal combustion engine powered cars in 15 years time. Preparing for that day by building the market for cleaner vehicles is crucial.

Raising fuel prices will not be popular. It could provoke more fuel strikes. But that might need to happen. Society's current attitude is like that of a morbidly obese individual who is told he or she will die of diabetes, but refuses to give up cream cakes in the hope a new type of less fattening potato will be found in the next few years!

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