Cllr Meirion Jenkins is the Shadow Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources on Birmingham City Council.
June 1st was the day that many hardworking residents of Birmingham had dreaded, when the Labour administration on Birmingham City Council introduced their new travel tax – aka the clean air zone. There is now an £8 a day charge for drivers to enter Birmingham’s inner-city area if their vehicle doesn’t meet Labour’s criteria.
The day of the launch was a complete fiasco. As a result of gross ineptitude on the part of the Labour administration (and having had two years to prepare) we saw an embarrassing change of policy. Having spent the weeks and days before 1st June, and even the morning of June 1st itself, advertising that charges would apply from 1st June, Labour discovered that they had not put the correct charging contracts in place (an administration failure that we had already called in the day before) and around mid-morning on June 1st they announced that a 14-day grace period would apply. Laughingly, they then claimed that they had planned to do this all along. Notwithstanding that they were advertising that charges would apply until mid-morning on June 1st, we have since challenged Labour’s claim and they haven’t been able to produce any evidence that the grace period had been planned.
One has to wonder how, with years of preparation for their flagship policy, a Labour administration could have failed to put in place the charging contract which is at the heart of the whole project until a few days before launch – a contract and process which we considered to be so flawed, that it was necessary to demand a call in.
Although Labour talks about clean air, there seems to be more of a focus on money. In June alone (remembering the 14 day grace period from June 1st), there were 44,000 fines and the council expects to collect £1.5m from charges and fines.
Since charging came into effect, there has been a series of press reports about how damaging Labour’s policy has been for businesses in the city. These have included a beauty business that saw an immediate downturn, a takeaway business that reported an 80 per cent drop in turnover and a taxi driver who said that the zone meant he was now working a 90 hour week for £100. The introduction of a tax on people who want to come into the city to do business will inevitably result in either a reduction of business or, at the very least, a shift in business to other locations to the disadvantage of Birmingham. For example, residents in Sutton Coldfield can just as easily choose to shop in an out-of-town retail park in Tamworth etc. Already businesses are factoring this tax into decisions to locate away from the city centre. Some nighttime workers are liable to pay £16 if their shift goes through midnight. A worker who is required to drive into the city every day would be liable for £8 x, say, 240 working days = £1,920 p.a. from net pay, the equivalent of £2,400 gross for a basic rate taxpayer and £3,200 gross for a higher rate taxpayer. For a worker on, say, £20K p.a., the charge would represent 12 per cent of their gross income!
Labour should never be allowed to introduce a policy like this without a referendum and, of course, the reason there was no referendum is that they knew they would lose. Their manifesto in 2018 made no mention of charging to enter the city.
Throughout the process, the Conservative Group has argued (and we did in our last manifesto) that superior outcomes in terms of air quality can be achieved without the need to charge motorists. If we win in May 2022, we will reverse this dreadful and misguided policy and this commitment may well be the reason that we do win next year.
As constituted, the charging arrangements impact on those households with the lowest incomes (who can’t afford to buy new cars) and also divert pollution away from the city centre to the inner ring road. A local Bishop has commented on the noticeable increase in traffic on the ring road and the transfer of pollution. Of course, charging older and dirtier cars is unlikely to be the limit of Labour’s ambitions. What will Birmingham’s profoundly anti-car, anti-motorist Labour administration do with their expensive camera network when all the old and dirty cars are scrapped. As with just about every other tax in history, it will expand in quantum and scope and will no doubt soon be directed at every hardworking motorist that tries to enter our city.
Further evidence of Labour’s campaign against motorists is the introduction of their segmentation plan, allowing cars to only enter a segment of the city at a time. This means that a driver needing to access two streets that might be only yards apart as the crow flies, would have to return to the ring road and actually drive many times further. This isn’t about protecting the environment, it’s about making life Hell for hardworking motorists.
In a motor trade city, with thousands of jobs dependent upon the motor trade, we have a council that is actively targeting the industry on which those jobs rely.