Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.
Lifelong Conservatives are not alone in losing patience with Downing Street’s arrogant dictatorship, and its headline-grabbing policies, often based on questionable data, but designed to appease a minority of campaigners who don’t suffer the financial constraints of the rest of us. Instead of patronising and banning, it’s time to engage with members of the public, and trust them.
The Chancellor’s frank assessment of the economic challenges ahead, as Government borrowing hits record levels was a wakeup call; lavish unnecessary spending has to be brought under control, so let’s hope – as he joked he would – he revokes the Prime Minister’s credit card. Constant policy changes are expensive, undermining confidence within business, the population and public sector, inhibiting growth, which will be crucial over the coming years. A case in point is the PM’s sudden ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars in just nine years’ time, instead of the original 2040 deadline.
This decision will impact the poorest and most disadvantaged beyond the Westminster bubble: the ‘left behind’ in the Red Wall and rural areas. For example, Suffolk is a net contributor to the Treasury, but, as I saw first hand in my ten years as a councillor and primary school governor, it has areas of serious deprivation beyond the posh weekend homes by the seafront. 75,000 people, including 22,000 in older age groups, are in income deprivation; average salaries are around £28,000, although a lot of employment is seasonal. This compares with £25,000 a year in Doncaster, and a national average of £38,600 (£33,300 for women).
MPs, of course are paid £81,932 a year, plus expenses and allowances for additional responsibilities, as well as generous financial entitlements at the end of their ‘service’. It is also now evident that many receive additional income from a range of other employment, as directors or advisers to major corporations – opportunities not available to ‘ordinary people’.
Unlike Ed Miliband, the ‘two kitchens’ Doncaster North MP, or Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, with his private plane (making him part of the one per cent of the world’s population responsible for harmful emissions) and £44,000 electric car, the majority of people are likely to struggle with daily expenses. Mortgages or rent, feeding their children, and covering energy costs, which consume 25 per cent of income; holidays are likely to be a day out, rather than the Prime Minister’s luxurious £15,000 break in the Caribbean earlier this year.
Although 81 per cent of households nationally have access to a car, they are using them less at present; 10m households simply cannot afford even the cheapest electric car, so they will retain their aging petrol or diesel indefinitely! The country can’t afford to subsidise change as it did a decade ago, to encourage the switch to hybrids. So, we have to accept that, with public transport expensive, and limited services in rural areas, people need their cars: to get to work (often for unsocial overnight and weekend duty) in factories and retail distribution centres, in care homes and the NHS, or on farms. Higher paid office workers can work from home, but our essential workers can’t.
Pensioners living on little more than the state pension, and the disabled, need their cars to get to GPs, hospital appointments, meet up with family (when permitted) and do essential shopping. Their budgets don’t allow them to be spendthrift with online shopping, even if they have a computer and could get a slot, and riding a bike is unlikely to be a safe option.
There is also the question of insurance, which is more expensive (over £600 for the cheapest) for electric cars because repair costs and maintenance are higher. Electric cars have a limited driving range of around 100 miles for older vehicles, rising to 239 mph, so recovery services are increasingly essential when drivers are stranded with flat batteries, potentially risking collisions. According to the AA, it is ‘on track to recover more than 600 in two years, equating to one a day’. However, they need to be transported with all four wheels off the ground, having to wait for a flatbed truck.
The next question is: when few homes – even in the richest parts of Kensington and Chelsea or Islington – have private parking, how is electricity to be provided for recharging, at what cost, and who pays? If electricity supplies can be temporarily cut, without compensation, from certain properties with smart meters when the National Grid is overwhelmed by demand, could this impact on recharging electric cars, leaving them unavailable for family or work emergencies?
According to a recent media report, 84 per cent of local authorities have no on-street charging points, and it would cost over £45 billion to install them. Never mind the disruption as roads are dug up all over the country; my road has only now reopened after two months to improve the gas infrastructure. It’s just as well I spent £3,500 to replace my gas boiler last year, because even those are to be banned in three years’ time, with yet another diktat demanding all new properties have ‘air source’ heat pumps, which are four times more expensive and less efficient, but will add to the cost of social and private housing.
Delaying these environmental changes, reverting to the original deadlines, would not only avoid increasing our horrendous levels of State borrowing and debt, but protect stretched councils, businesses and voters from even higher tax rises at a national and council level over the next decade, which can only lead to increased personal debt, and potentially homelessness, as job losses continue to rise. The Treasury is allegedly also debating introducing a £1 per mile charge for using the roads, already paid for by taxpayers; will it apply to cyclists, even if they do use pavements instead?
Following the November announcement, anyone’s petrol or diesel car is worth virtually nothing – however recently purchased, yet replacing with an electric car will be double the price of even the most modest vehicle. How can those on average incomes/pensions afford it? With so many businesses – including Suffolk’s famed breweries, vineyards and vital agriculture, as well as coach companies crucial to Tourism – struggling to recover from the lockdown, having to renew company fleets will be another nail in their coffins.
Despite promised delays on banning commercial vehicles, there will still be a cost to the public sector in replacing millions of vehicles, from ambulances and police cars, to buses, waste trucks and mobile libraries, as well as military vehicles. A lot of council employees actually use their own cars for work: social services, town planning, engineers and councillors on site visits, and directors travelling to meetings, etc. Will their already generous mileage allowances be raised to cover the extra costs of owning electric cars?
The UK may have left the EU, but Tourism is important on both sides of the Channel, and that means that British citizens will wish to continue visiting the Continent by car, when viable. However, unless there are charging points across Europe, and on the car ferries, it looks as if the Prime Minister will confine us all to barracks. At present, expensive hybrids are the only way to get from one side of France to the other if you can’t use a petrol or diesel powered car! How will foreign tourists to the UK be affected, and foreign logistics companies which use UK roads free of charge, whereas British lorries pay substantial annual fees on the Continent?
There’s been no mention of the cost to scrap banned petrol and diesel cars; will councils be responsible? If so, at what cost – both environmentally and financially – to local residents?
With High Streets ravaged, entertainment, sporting events and hospitality decimated, and ill-conceived commercial property investments failing, there is already talk of councils going bankrupt as income crashes. The 5% council tax increase next year, adding £100 to annual bills, won’t be enough to salvage them. No doubt this will be a key issue in next year’s elections, so the Government will need to be prepared with solutions which don’t penalise ‘ordinary people’.