Newly-elected government to drive fleets and drivers further along the ‘green’ road

The newly-elected minority Conservative government will continue to drive businesses and company car and van drivers further along the ‘green’ road as ministers seek to ‘clean-up’ the UK’s vehicle population.

In recent years, the government’s vehicle-related tax strategy – company car benefit-in-kind tax, Vehicle Excise Duty and capital allowances – has aimed to incentivise the take-up of zero and ultra-low emission vehicles.

That strategy is set to continue with Theresa May returned to 10 Downing Street, potentially supported by an arrangement with Northern Ireland’s DUP, and it will be further outlined in the new Autumn Budget in November – although an emergency post-election Budget in July ahead of Parliament’s summer recess cannot be ruled out.

Meanwhile, there have been calls for the new government to put a greater focus on road casualty reduction with IAM RoadSmart, the UK’s biggest independent road safety charity, arguing that work-related road safety should be a higher priority.

An immediate post general election focus of the new government is to publish its definitive and long-awaited Air Quality Plan.

Due to be published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs by July 31 – following a consultation period that ended on Thursday (June 15) – the Plan is expected to:

  • Confirm which of a potential 80 local authorities will formally and legally be required to develop and implement comprehensive Clean Air Zone plans (see The Buzz: May 2017)
  • Outline measures to reduce the impact of diesel vehicles on air quality
  • Accelerate the move to cleaner transport, notably demand for plug-in vehicles.

The government has already serviced notice that the “tax treatment for diesel vehicles” could change as it bids to cut pollution from the transport sector and improve air quality.

Civil servants are known to be exploring what the previous government called “the appropriate tax treatment for diesel vehicles”, which includes engaging with stakeholders ahead of making any tax changes in the Autumn Budget.

As a result, fleet managers and company car drivers can expect diesel vehicle tax changes – and potentially increases – as the government reinforces its Air Quality Plan and its mission to convert fleets – and consumers – to plug-in and ultra-low emission vehicles.

The Conservative’s manifesto ‘Forward Together: Our Plan for a Stronger Britain and a Prosperous Future’ said that it remained the Party’s ambition for Britain to “lead the world in electric vehicle technology and use”.

It continued: “We want almost every car and van to be zero emission by 2050 – and will invest £600 million by 2020 to help achieve it.”

The manifesto also indicated that more cash would be spent on research and development including batteries that would power a new generation of “clean, efficient, electric vehicles”; while £1.1 billion would be invested in improving local transport infrastructure.

On transport, the Conservatives said: “We are working through one of the largest-ever investment programmes in our roads and railways, putting some £40 billion into transport improvements across the UK over the rest of this decade.

“We are investing to reduce travel time and cost, increase capacity and attract investment in the UK. We will continue our programme of national investments including HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and the expansion of Heathrow Airport.

“We will continue to develop the strategic road network, providing extra lanes on our motorways and improving key routes whilst also paying attention to parts of the country left behind because of poor transport connections. We will continue to invest in roads to fix pinch points.”

Extra rail capacity to ease passenger overcrowding, new rail lines and stations and improving existing routes are also on the agenda as well as the expansion of cycle networks.

The previous government was also starting to study the taxation of benefits-in-kind and employee expenses to ensure they were “fair and consistent”. That “call for evidence” work, which is expected to include an examination of Approved Mileage Allowance Payments made to employees that drive their own cars on business journeys, will continue and a consultation document on the proposals can be expected to be published.

The DUP’s manifesto was light on reference to transport, but it is known to be pushing for more local infrastructure spending as part of any arrangement to support the government and that could include cash for new roads. It also wants to see a corporation rate cut to “at least” 12.5% – under devolved powers the Northern Ireland Assembly can set its own rate.

Meanwhile, the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA) has set out its priorities for the incoming government, outlining how the fleet and mobility services sector can enable policymakers to drive down emissions, improve road safety and make road transport more cost efficient.

In its ‘A Fleet and Mobility Services Manifesto’, covering emissions, air quality, road safety, Brexit, red tape and connected cars, the BVRLA compiled a six-point action plan for the incoming administration. It demands:

  • A wholesale review of company car taxation, recognising the benefits of company cars in terms of reduced emissions and revenue to HM Treasury
  • Additional Clean Air Zone guidance to ensure consistency in terms of standards, enforcement, timescales for introduction and penalties for non-compliance
  • Introduction of a flexible and targeted diesel scrappage scheme, which provided assistance for companies looking to replace or retrofit older, more polluting commercial vehicles. The scheme should also incentivise private car owners to swap their existing car for a pure electric alternative, or give up their vehicles to use more sustainable modes of transport, such as car rental and car clubs
  • Encouragement and incentives for the fitment of Autonomous Emergency Braking and other technology proven to have a demonstrable impact on reducing road accidents
  • Removal of the need for commercial vehicle examiners to be directly employed by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, and the provision of HGV testing via the same MoT testing model available for private cars and light commercial vehicles
  • The setting up of a Mobility Data Hub to provide a neutral voice advocating and providing guidance to realise the full potential of connected vehicles and their data. It would ensure fleet operators, vehicle manufacturers and third-party suppliers could share data in an open, secure and fair way

Commenting on the launch of the manifesto, BVRLA chief executive Gerry Keaney said “Policymakers face a real challenge, not just in terms of Brexit, but also in how the UK embraces the move towards data-driven mobility services. We believe this manifesto will ensure the big issues for our industry aren’t forgotten about.”

Meanwhile, with government figures highlighting a stalling in the reduction of the number of people killed and seriously injured on the UK’s roads – around 24,000 a year this decade – there are demands for the incoming government to commit to an overhaul of road safety in the new Parliament.

Road safety at work remained a “critical health and safety issue” that required higher priority and one which should be at the core of good corporate governance for every employer, according to IAM RoadSmart.

It has launched its own 12-point manifesto to drive down the number of people killed and seriously injured on UK roads. It calls all road safety professionals to “work together to reduce the numbers of people killed and seriously injured on the UK’s roads”.

The manifesto calls on legislators, car makers, social media and smartphone companies to work with road users on practical solutions to address driver distraction, especially smartphone usage and interactive dashboard information availability.

What’s more IAM RoadSmart urges employers and consumers to make “informed procurement choices” with the manifesto calling on government to implement cross-department procurement rules to accelerate the uptake of safe new vehicles with features such as autonomous braking.

The manifesto also calls on public and private sector companies to only issue contracts to firms with driver risk management policies in place.

The charity has also called for a reduction in the drink-drive limit in England and Wales, matching that already in place for Scotland – 50mg in every 100ml of blood.

The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS) has called on the new government to commit to:

  • A focus on safety for vulnerable road users
  • Effective action to tackle inappropriate speed and drink-driving – to include more use of technology where police numbers are stretched
  • Strong support for the proposed changes to European Union vehicle safety regulations
  • A renewed partnership between local authorities and government to deliver effective casualty reduction measures
  • Establishment of a UK road collision investigation body and an overhaul of how collision information is gathered and analysed.

David Davies, PACTS’ executive director, said: “We need to raise our ambitions in the UK and start planning for a road system which does not tolerate death and serious injury as a routine occurrence. There is currently a considerable focus on premature deaths from air pollution. We should remember deaths from road collisions are still the biggest killer of young people and the biggest risk to most of us in our daily lives. We need to bring together the agendas for safer and healthier cities.”

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