Thursday, October 23, 2008

Manchester C-charge debate kicks off

The battle over plans to introduce Britain's biggest congestion charge zone in Manchester have begun in earnest as opponents have hit out at the proposed referendum as unbalanced and incomprehensible.

Of particular concern is that the congestion charge is not even mentioned on the proposed ballot paper.

The referendum question reads: "Do you agree with the Transport Innovation Fund proposals?" - a reference to the £3bn package of public transport improvements promised to Manchester by the government in return for agreeing to implement a charge from 2013.

The Greater Manchester Momentum Group (GMMG), a business alliance that opposes the charge, said almost half Manchester's residents did not know about the plans, despite a 14-week consultation.

"We feel strongly that the current suggestion [for the referendum] is unbalanced and . . . would mean little to many people who don't even know about the consultation," a spokesman said.

"Transport Innovation Fund is jargon and would mean little to many people, who didn't even know about the consultation."

As we commented here on this blog back in June, when the government gave the nod to the scheme, it's bizarre that Manchester is considering introducing congestion charging at all given admissions in London that the capital's landmark scheme has failed to cut congestion, evidence that the average speed of traffic in London is dropping, not increasing, and the pending outcome of a public consultation on whether the western extension to the zone should be scrapped altogether.

That the government and Manchester authorities seem prepared to ignore the evident failure and unpopularity of the London scheme indicates strongly that milking yet more cash from the already over-burdened car user is the only real motivation behind the plan.

The Manchester scheme will include two charging rings, one just inside the M60 and the other around the city centre. Drivers would pay to cross each at peak times when entering in the morning and leaving at night, in contrast to London's catch-all scheme.

Dave Goddard, leader of Stockport council and an opponent of the scheme has also criticised the referendum question.

He said: "Electoral Commission guidelines say the question should be in language people can understand. People understand the congestion charge, they do not understand 'Transport Innovation Fund'."

For the plans to come into effect, seven of the 10 Manchester boroughs must agree. It is expected that Mr Goddard and the leaders of Trafford and Bury councils, who also oppose the congestion charge, will be outvoted at a meeting of Greater Manchester authorities next week that will decide the referendum question.

Ballot papers will be sent out next month and must be returned by post by December 11. Though the poll has no legal force, council leaders have agreed to abide by the result.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Aston Martin revives Lagonda marque

Aston Martin has today confirmed the company's intention to revive the historic British Lagonda marque.

In a statement announcing the news, Aston Martin CEO Dr Ulrich Bez referred to the company's forthcoming four-door Rapide model, further raising speculation that the car may be badged as a Lagonda rather than Aston Martin.

Dr Bez said: "We will take elements of DNA from the past but will be very future orientated as we are with Aston Martin." Rapide is also a model name previously used by Lagonda.

By offering cars of a "different character" from Aston Martin and with "a unique design language", the move is a bid to expand the company's market presence from 32 to 100 countries worldwide.

Lagonda history

The last production outing for the famous marque, which was purchased by David Brown in 1947 together with Aston Martin and merged into one company, was the futuristic 1970s Aston Martin Lagonda.

While the car itself was beset by problems with its advanced electronics and did not earn a good reputation, the technical ambition it demonstrated as well as income generated from advance orders was credited with saving Aston Martin from bankruptcy.

Only a few bespoke four-door 1990s Aston Martin Virage models produced for export have since worn the Lagonda badge.

More jobs in Gaydon

The new Rapide is expected to add another 1,000 - 2,000 cars to Aston Martin's production numbers and create jobs for at least 200 more workers at its Warwickshire plant, with the facility having to be expanded with a new production line and developments to the body and paint shops.

A concept of the first new Lagonda will be revealed in 2009 with the car planned to be in production by 2012.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Government to review car tax plan

Following the revelation yesterday that the Prime Minister 'mis-spoke' when he said in Parliament that the majority of drivers would benefit from proposed car tax changes, Chancellor Alistair Darling has appeared in Parliament this morning to answer questions about the plans.

Finally confirming what other ministers and backbench MPs had already been pushing for, he indicated that the plan will be reviewed before the Pre-Budget Report, due in the Autumn.

Official estimates given yesterday to Conservative shadow Treasury minister Justine Greening in a Parliamentary answer revealed that vehicle excise duty will rise for 44% of vehicles made since 2001 - by up to £245 for the most polluting ones - but will fall for 33%.

An estimated nine million car users would have to pay more under the reforms.

Answering for the Treasury, Angela Eagle MP also admitted that five of the UK's 30 most popular cars would pay more.

So if you drive a 2.2l diesel Land Rover Freelander, a 1.6l unleaded Toyota Auris, a 2.2l diesel Honda CR-V, a 1.8l unleaded Vauxhall Vectra or a 1.6l unleaded Vauxhall Zafira, prepare for a wallet-bashing.

Most interestingly, the government's difficulties with getting the plan through Parliament seem to be greater than first envisaged.

Complaints from Labour backbenchers don't just seem to relate to the backdating of the changes to older cars made after March 2001 - thought to be the most contentious part of the proposals.

Speaking on the BBC News channel, Martin Salter - far from among the most rebellious of Labour MPs - complained that even "two years" was not enough time to give people a chance to change their car-buying behaviour.

This would suggest that the government faces problems getting the proposals through Parliament if they make the changes applicable to anything other than brand new cars.

But then, that would mean people are given a chance to dodge the higher charges by making alternative choices, and make the proposals actually 'green' - rather than the great fundraiser for the Treasury that they are actually designed to be.

What a dilemma, Darling!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The man's on a roll

The Evening Standard reports today that London's new mayor Boris Johnson has scrapped Ken Livingstone's plan to hit 'gas-guzzlers' with a £25 congestion charge.

The news follows
reports that, in September, Boris will consult the public on scrapping the westward extension of the zone.

According to the Standard, the High Court has confirmed today that the paperwork needed to end former London mayor Ken Livingstone's key policy had been completed.

Band G injustice

The scheme was due to change in October this year. But now there will be no increase in charge to £25 for drivers of Band G vehicles.

Band G doesn't just include expensive sports cars or 4x4s but many typical mid-size family cars, including estate cars and people carriers. So the £25 daily charge would have hit families the hardest.

Targetting Band G for excessively punitive charges would also have threatened the jobs of tens of thousands of people working in Britain's sports and executive car industry, by making their products financially unviable to run.

The discount for cars in Bands A and B, which would have resulted in thousands of cars driving into the zone for free and adding to congestion, has also been removed.

TfL study slammed plans

As we
reported back in October, Livingstone's proposed changes to the congestion charge scheme were slammed by Transport for London's (TfL) own study into the plans.

Their Impact Assessment, authored by environmental consultants AEA, pointed out that not only would the effect of the changes be "an increase in cars moving within the zone" - defeating the purpose of an anti-congestion scheme - but that "Increased congestion would mean that all vehicles would move more slowly leading to increases in CO2 emissions."

Outbreak of sense

So Boris's actions are a welcome sign that he is being guided by the advice of experts in the best interests of limiting congestion and, therefore, emissions.

Rather than the pursuit of blinkered class warfare, or the twisted idea of a link between emissions and 4x4s exclusively, demonstrated by his predecessor.

TfL commissioner Peter Hendy said: "We will be working with the Mayor to strive to cut CO2 emissions from transport in London by promoting cycling and walking, encouraging people to drive in a more efficient way and by cutting Transport for London's own CO2 emissions."

Let's hope this new outbreak of sense in London starts to spread throughout the country. But what next for Boris? May we suggest another look at this.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

UK fuel cheapest in Europe without taxes

According to a recent Evening Standard report, fuel in Britain would be the cheapest in western Europe if it wasn't for taxes piled on top by the government.

Official figures published by Business Secretary John Hutton show that Britain has the cheapest diesel in western Europe once taxes are excluded, with unleaded petrol being the second cheapest.

The revelations expose the fallacy of the prevailing view that nothing can be done about high fuel prices because of the rising price of oil - a piece of government spin that's increasingly being retailed by the mainstream media.

In reality, factors under direct control of the government such as the huge percentage of the retail price that is down to fuel duty and VAT could affect the price we pay at the pump a great deal, and do much to ease the pain being suffered by hauliers and car users struggling to pay their fuel bills.

Consumer fuel prices have rocketed in recent months as the cost of oil spirals. While fuel duty has remained the same at 50.3p per litre, the government has profited from the extra VAT on the increased prices.

Yet the government remains disinterested in giving any of that extra cash back to ease the growing burden on car users.

Chancellor Alistair Darling has signalled that he may postpone the 2p fuel duty rise due in October, but hauliers are demanding a 25p a litre rebate and a government struggling to maintain popularity should more seriously consider actually cutting duty.

The AA has called for the tax on fuel to be published at forecourts so drivers can keep track of how much we're paying the Treasury, which sounds an extremely sensible idea and one way that fuel companies could extricate themselves from the blame for higher prices.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Boris consults over scrapping C-charge extension

The new Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has announced a public consultation on the future of the western extension of the congestion charging zone, which will include an option to "scrap it".

The news that the London scheme may be shrunk comes at a particularly inopportune moment for the government, as it continues to push for congestion charging to be introduced in other major British cities, like Manchester.

Criticising his predecessor's February 2007 expansion of the central London invisible toll scheme in the face of overwhelming local opposition, Boris Johnson says he has an "open mind" towards making changes and promises it will be "a genuine consultation".

The consultation will not be a 'yes/no' referendum on the extension but will include various options such as changing the hours of operation.

The plan will also include the carrying out at the same time of an attitudinal survey, factored to match the population of London as a whole.

Local residents and businesses will have a five-week opportunity to express their views on the westward extension, starting in September, with Transport for London particularly keen to hear from those within or on the borders of the extension.

Boris Johnson said: “This will be an opportunity for everyone with experience of the extension to tell me whether they want to see it removed, improved or if they are simply unmoved.”

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Revolt looms over car tax hike

The number of Labour backbenchers supporting a parliamentary motion urging the government to reconsider massive increases to car tax has reached 45.

With the government only having a majority of 66, the number of rebels is now more than enough to block the scheme - if they vote in accordance with their views when it comes to the crunch.

It only takes 34 Labour MPs to vote with the opposition parties to thwart government plans.

Some rebels are likely to be bought off if the Chancellor Alistair Darling abandons plans to make the changes retrospective to cars made since 2001.

However, even the scale of the increases for very average mid-range cars made since March 2006 is likely to trigger widespread public dismay.

MPs fear the scheme could be as politically damaging as the storm over the abolition of the 10p income tax band, and even two ministers - Justice Secretary Jack Straw and Business Secretary John Hutton - have indicated that there should be a re-think.

Owners of typical family cars such as the Ford Galaxy, Vauxhall Zafira and Renault Espace will face an increase in duty of up to £245 by 2010.

Ronnie Campbell, the Blyth Valley MP who tabled the motion, said: "It's unfair that people bought their cars a few years ago not knowing that the government were going to put this road tax on.

"When you think that the 10p (tax abolition) was costing people £200 a year; the outbreak of that one was enormous. When people get their road-tax letter through the door next year and find they have an extra £200 to pay, well, I don't have to say any more, do I?"

Another signatory to the Commons motion, Angus MacNeil, SNP MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, said it was clear, as we have been saying since the scheme was announced, that the increase in VED had not been thought through and that Mr Darling had taken a sledgehammer to the issue.

He told The Herald: "It's going to be like the 10p tax: sooner or later they will have to do a U-turn."

In total, 62 MPs have signed the motion, with 9 Conservatives, 7 Liberal Democrats and one SNP MP joining the Labour rebels.

While such Early Day Motions have little real power, they are influential in indicating backbench opinion on a policy before it comes to a key vote in Parliament.

The government's Finance Bill incorporating the plans to is due for further consideration in Parliament
next week.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Government gives go-ahead for Manchester C-charge

Transport secretary Ruth Kelly has in the last hour announced the government's support for the introduction of congestion charging in Manchester.

In the now classic style of Bungler Brown's government, the news comes despite recent admissions in London that the capital's scheme has failed to cut congestion, evidence that the average speed of traffic in London is dropping, not increasing and increasing pressure for the scheme to be shrunk.

Hardly the optimal moment to announce an expansion of the idea, even without considering financial factors like car users already being hammered by fuel prices and people generally feeling the pinch.

It would also be unwise for Manchester residents to assume that the initial charge of £5 for entering the zone would remain at that level for very long, or that the boundaries of the two-ringed invisible toll wouldn't soon shift from their initial positions in order to increase revenue.

A public consultation will now be held on the plan.

The government will provide £1.5bn to support the scheme, with the rest of the £2.8bn cost coming coming from the city authorities themselves.

Where the extra funds for the over-runs that inevitably blight major government schemes will come from is not clear, with local council taxpayers potentially having to foot the bill.

Responding to the government's statement, Theresa Villiers MP asked why three out of ten councils in Manchester oppose the plan.

Stockport, Trafford and Bury councils are no longer supporting the bid for funding and councillors in Bolton - where Ruth Kelly's own highly marginal seat is located - have promised to hold a public referendum on the issue.

Andrew Simpson, chairman of the Greater Manchester Momentum Group (GMMG) - a lobby group formed by major businesses opposed to congestion charging - said:

"It's right that we want improved public transport, but if the cost of that is something that's going to cost people in this region up to £1,200 a year to get to work, then I think that's going to be very bad for our jobs and our economy."

The group has support from major Manchester stores Harvey Nichols, Lookers and Makro, along with the owners of the Trafford Centre and a range of other business organisations.

In typical fashion, the scheme is being sold as a means to deliver 'a first-class public transport system'. Though where all the money Manchester residents - not least car users - have already stumped up in taxes has gone if not not towards providing just such a system is a more pertinent question.

Now we are expected to stump up even more from the public pocket in order to introduce a system that will hit car users with even more bills.

Is there no end to this government's greed for our cash?
As ever, aimed first of all at soft-target car users who already pay far more in taxes to the Treasury than are spent on road transport improvements.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Car tax row hots up

The debate over plans for a drastic hike in car tax is starting to get interesting, amid increasing fears within government that the revised scheme could prove as politically damaging as the storm over the abolition of the 10p income tax band.

The plans, announced in Alistair Darling's first Budget back in March, will create six additional car tax bands and introduce an up to £950 graduated ‘showroom tax’ on cars in the upper tax bands.

Despite being spun as a 'green' move that will persuade people to buy lower-emission, lower-taxed cars, the Treasury has already admitted that once the revised system is in force more than £700m extra a year will be delivered into the government's coffers.

A very clear indication from the horse's mouth that people will not, in fact, switch to the lower-emissions cars that attract reductions in the tax rate and the scheme is therefore largely useless in 'green' terms (but clearly very useful in government fundraising terms).

No surprise, then, that Chancellor Alistair Darling decided to try to introduce the scheme regardless.

Money or popularity?

Already reeling from severe public slapdowns in recent elections, ministers and MPs are now starting to worry that both the scale of the increases combined with the number of people set to be affected to some degree will be an explosive recipe, capable of triggering a further dramatic slide in the government's popularity.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw and Business Secretary John Hutton have been the first to break ranks with the Prime Minister and his puppet Chancellor to
suggest that it may not be the best plan to pile severe extra costs on people right when they're feeling the pinch.

They have hinted that the Autumn pre-Budget statement would be a good opportunity to take a 'fresh look' at the plans.

Backbenchers are also asserting themselves over the issue, with 35 Labour MPs (and others to make 42 in total) so far having backed a Commons motion by Ronnie Campbell MP urging ministers to reconsider.

Retrospective tax on older cars

A particular target for review is the most controversial element of the scheme - to impose tax at the new highest rate retrospectively to cars bought between 2001 and 2006.

A host of family cars
bought before March 2006, many used everyday for the school run, will see their road tax double from £210 to more than £430 unless the plans are changed.

This double-whammy aspect of the scheme will hit those who bought cars in good faith a few years ago, not knowing the government would drastically increase the road tax on them. And make it harder for those people to switch to lower-emissions cars, as the new excessively punitive tax rate will severely cut their existing car's value.

Good time for pause

Given his already pretty significant woes, and the growing controversy over out-of-control fuel prices, does Gordon Brown really want to further wind up 18m 'middle Britain' car users?

As the 'consensus' over climate change is brought ever further into doubt by
severe wintery conditions across the globe and growing lists of scientists contradicting the man-made global warming orthodoxy, now would be the perfect time for Brown to demonstrate responsible leadership and pause for a re-think.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Richmond at it again

Hot on the heels of their bizarre 'emissions-cutting' scheme that encourages people to drive their cars to work rather than leave them parked at home (an allegedly 'green' scheme that pushes people to concrete over their gardens in order to park their cars off ridiculously over-charged streets) Richmond Council in south London have come up with a new wheeze.

This time the plan to separate the borough's car users from yet more of their cash involves charges for 'drop-off' parking permits at local schools.

And once again they seem set on trying to daub this blatant tax hike as 'green'.

Top charge of £75

At the moment, parents can use a free permit provided by schools allowing them to park on double yellow lines or bays for ten minutes while they deliver or collect their children.

So far, so reasonable.

But the council have announced that, from September, a 'sliding scale' will be used to charge parents for these currently free permits, based on the CO2 emissions produced by their vehicles.

The top charge is reportedly going to be an outrageous £75 for dropping your kids off at school in anything from an average-sized family car upwards.

'Green' paint stripped

While the full details of the sliding scale have not yet been revealed (a bit of standard PR that tries to get the headlines out of the way before the gruesome details are exposed), the council's past form makes it likely that the vast majority of parents driving even the smallest cars will have to fork out extra cash where they don't have to currently.

The council's similar emissions-based scheme for residents' parking permits penalises with greatly increased charges those with cars in tax Band D and upwards.

That includes some models of small city cars like the Mini, Ford Fiesta and Nissan Micra. A very different story beyond the oft-used spin about attacking 'gas-guzzling 4x4s', and one that utterly strips away any claim that the scheme is actually about the environment rather than raising cash yet again from soft-target car users.

Sadly, going by the headlines, "4x4s" are the furthest the spin-vulnerable traditional media ever read into such plans.

Scheme condemned as 'unfair'

The council's plan has been roundly condemned by representatives of parent teacher and car user groups.

Margaret Morrissey of the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations has called the scheme "unfair and unrealistic", quite rightly pointing out, "Many families have three or four children, and they need the space to fit child seats that the Government insists on."

And the AA's Paul Watters said: "People carriers are very efficient at getting kids to school, considering many are seven-seaters. It might be a better idea to remove the many smaller cars."

Lib Dem warning

As a Liberal Democrat-run council, Richmond's actions give a worrying indication of what sort of faux-green financial repression car users big and small can expect if the Lib Dems achieve any governing power.

Something for us all to bear in mind with local elections looming and even a general election on the horizon.

But spare a thought for the poor car-using residents of Richmond, who clearly face endless demands on their wallets between now and their next local elections in 2010.

Unless they fight back against blatant rip off tax hikes, even when they are labelled 'green'.

Friday, April 18, 2008

C-charge has not cut jams, admits TfL chief

According to today's Evening Standard, Transport for London's Michèle Dix - managing director of planning - has admitted that congestion in central London is back at levels last seen before the C-charge came into effect.

Speaking at a transport conference in London, she admitted that congestion has now returned to how it was before the controversial road-charging scheme was introduced.

But it seems she stopped short of apologising to car users for the vast cost of the failed scheme.

Confirming the conclusion of an earlier study by the Centre for Economics and Business Research, Transport for London said the freed road space created by the 21% drop in traffic levels had been taken up by other road users, making congestion worse.

This is the first time TfL itself has publicly admitted to such a sharp rise in congestion in central London.

Ms Dix also revealed the extent to which public opposition to road tolls had made TfL think twice about extending the congestion charge zone to the capital's outer boroughs.

A petition on the Prime Minister's website calling for national roadpricing plans to be axed attracted a record-breaking 1.8 million signatories.

"It made government turn off charging, which has made it difficult for us," Ms Dix told the conference.

"If road-user charging was to be extended, we would have to make it more acceptable. We would have to improve public transport" she said.

Her admission serves as a major warning for any city considering introducing similar road-charging schemes - particularly those whose public transport system is thought to be less effective than London's.

The news also supports an Evening Standard survey conducted in February, and Department for Transport figures released last year, revealing that morning rush-hour traffic speeds had fallen to 9.3mph, below the 9.9mph recorded before the C-charge was introduced.

Paul Watters of the AA said: "It had become increasingly clear that benefits originally delivered by the charge were being eroded.

"Last year, TfL's own monitoring report said the initial 30% improvement in congestion had slipped to just 8% - now it seems even that gain may have gone."

Gordon Taylor of West London Residents' Association accused TfL management of "complete failure".

Friday, March 14, 2008

Brit-built cars win top awards

The new Jaguar XF has won the coveted What Car magazine Car of the Year 2008 award, beating off stiff competition from rivals BMW and Mercedes.

What Car stipulate that the winner of the award "must have done more than anything else from the past 12 months to move things on".

Castle Bromwich-based Jaguar is a mere cottage industry alongside the mighty Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Yet its replacement for the retro styled S-Type was considered to have beaten the best the company's German rivals could offer.

This is even more of an achievement when set against the backdrop of uncertainty over Jaguar's future, with the sale of the company by owners Ford now imminent - most likely to Indian motor group Tata.

The magazine singled out in particular the way the XF out-drives the previously unbeatable BMW 5 Series, which is saying something, but also manages to be more supple on poor surfaces.

Accepting the award, Jaguar and Land Rover managing director Mike O'Driscoll said, 'This marks a very special day for Jaguar. We're back.'

Neither is What Car alone in praising the new Jag over its executive peers. In a three-way Auto Express group test against the Mercedes E280 CDI and BMW 525 M Sport, the 2.7 diesel version of the XF emerged triumphant.

Despite being the cheapest of the three, Auto Express described the car as "brilliant: superbly designed inside out, as well as fantastic to drive in all conditions and cost effective to buy and run. Jaguar should be immensely proud of its achievement."

"We're proud to say the XF is a British world-beater", the mag concluded.

But it's not just the Jaguar taking the honours. British-built stable-mate Land Rover won the top What Car award in the compact 4x4 category with its Freelander model, while the Discovery took the accolade for best large 4x4.

Al Kammerer, product development director Jaguar and Land Rover, pointed to strength in automotive manufacturing. 'The automotive industry in the West Midlands is alive and well,' he said.

In the hot hatch category, there was more success for British-built models with Oxford's MINI Cooper taking the title.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

'Green' car tax changes a fundraiser, Treasury admits

Whoops, what a giveaway! And how often is that said on the day after Budget day?

But buried in the small print of yesterday's Budget was an official admission that changes to the car tax system, being spun as having 'green' objectives, will in fact be a healthy fundraiser for the Treasury.

The Treasury has said that by 2010-11, when the six additional car tax bands and the up to £950 graduated ‘showroom tax’ on cars in the upper tax bands come into force, higher vehicle excise duties will be delivering an extra £735m to the government’s coffers.

When the tax on lower emissions cars is also set to go down, the fact that tax income is projected to increase by such a huge amount rather indicates that Alistair Darling himself knows that the changes will not remotely encourage people to switch to less polluting cars.

Probably because, as we all know, many people actually need larger cars to accommodate their families and aren’t just driving them out of perversity or for their own entertainment.

So here we have confirmation from the horse's mouth that these car tax changes are not a ‘green’ move at all, but a way of milking more money from the already over-burdened car user. And what a surprise .... they did it anyway!

Coupled with the news that the fuel tax increase (albeit delayed til October) will be contributing an additional £270m to the Treasury by 2010, and that the government will announce the results of its investigations into how to hit car users with yet more bills via road charging next year, it’s no wonder this Budget has been described as 'Darling's war on the family car'.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Honda's £80m vote of confidence in Britain

Honda has announced an £80 million investment in its manufacturing plant in Swindon.

The extra money is to be spent upgrading the paint shop and plastics operation, and will include £16 million for casting diesel engine blocks - a process only Honda Japan has undertaken to date.

The announcement will take Honda's total investment in Swindon to £1.38 billion. The company's operations on the site began 22 years ago and today the plant produces nearly 240,000 cars a year, with two million Hondas having rolled off Swindon's production lines in total.

The operation is also a huge export success, with 70% of their UK-built CR-V and Civic models destined for more than 60 export markets worldwide.

Ken Kier, senior vice president of Honda Europe, said: "This is a testament to the quality and commitment of 5,000 associates at Swindon and the quality of our component suppliers in the UK and abroad."

"Swindon will continue to be the heart of our European manufacturing operations in the future," he confirmed.

The good news for Swindon follows last month’s announcement of up to 800 new jobs to support a third production shift at Nissan's UK plant in Sunderland.

The boost for jobs comes on the back of the success of the Qashqai model, made at the plant.

Chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) Paul Everitt commented:
"Once again a highly-skilled British workforce has shown it can hold its own and that UK car making is alive and well," he added.

The news is confirmation of the statement in today's Budget that, contrary to the scare stories put about a few years ago by those misguided few who wanted us to join the euro, Britain continues to attract large flows of in inward foreign investment.

According to the Budget report, the UK remains the top European recipient of inward direct investment and second in the world only to the USA.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Taxes up again; emissions unaffected - feeling greener yet?

Car users are set, yet again, to be the victim of tax hikes dressed up as 'green' fervour in Alistair Darling's first budget as Chancellor, due tomorrow.

Darling is not just planning to press ahead with his 2p rise in fuel duty, despite fuel prices already reaching record levels, but cap it with punitive extra taxes on so-called 'gas guzzlers'.

As part of a further shake up of the road tax system, including the introduction of extra charging tiers, buyers of cars in Band G will reportedly be hit with a one-off first-year's road tax of "more than £1,000", before the tax reverts to the standard annual level of £400.

Band G is typically referred to as the bastion of Range Rovers and other (gasp) 4x4s. But in fact it also encompasses many ordinary mid-range family cars such as some models - mainly estate and automatic variants - of the Mercedes C-class, Saab 9-3 & 9-5, Volvo S60, Honda Accord, Audi A6, Volvo V70 and the Mondeo-sized Jaguar X-Type.

It also includes many everday people-carriers - even those with distinctly average engine sizes - like the Peugeot 807 2.0 MPV, Citroen C8 2.0i, Ford S-Max 2.3 Duratec, Chevrolet Tacuma 2.0CDX, Chrysler Voyager 2.4, Ford Galaxy 2.3 Duratec, Mitsubishi Grandis 2.4 Mivec, Volkswagen Sharan 2.0 S & SE and the Renault Grand Espace 2.0T.

In fact, the very cars the anti-4x4 brigade are encouraging 4x4 owners with a need for spacious family transport to buy instead!

These mid-range car buyers are the people this "showroom tax" plan will hit the hardest. For those who can afford the Range Rovers or a top end executive or sports car for £40k plus - likely twice the price of the mid-range cars - an extra grand is neither here nor there. They'll pay it anyway, as our Chancellor must well know, and the 'gas guzzling' will carry on regardless.

If Darling were serious about making a real difference to lowering CO2 emissions from cars, rather than just squeezing extra revenue from the car tax system, he would cut the government's huge tax take on the more efficient but more expensive 'premium' unleaded fuels.

Equalising the price with that of normal unleaded, through giving up just a few pence a litre of tax, would mean all car users could all afford to choose to lower their emissions.

The result would be a real and instant reduction in emissions that every car on the road could contribute towards.

Why will he ignore it? Because it will cost him money, not increase tax income. And as we know, only higher taxes are 'green'. Right?

With the timing that only his boss 'Bungler' Brown could be behind, Darling's 'putting climate change at the heart of economic policy' Budget comes as evidence is growing that the global warming theory is actually coming apart at the seams.

These people continue to take people for fools at their electoral peril.