SIR – First I must congratulate you on your appointment. Minister of State for Transport is a demanding and challenging role, made no less so by the varied and conflicting demands placed upon you by a huge range of lobby groups. With such a tangled thicket to fight your way through it can sometimes be difficult to see the way but your predecessors have left a clear, signposted trail with many policy decisions taken.
I want to let you know about three specific areas of interest to the fleet industry, which contributes at least £25 billion to the Exchequer every year. These are transport infrastructure, road safety and smarter enforcement.
In transport infrastructure, UK Plc desperately needs help. Our motorways and trunk roads are clogged with traffic from seven in the morning until seven in the evening. Our trains, when they do run, still have not reached levels of punctuality seen under the last, dare I say, Conservative government. Our airlines continue to grossly pollute our skies with cheap, low-tax fuel while all too many of our buses continue to pump out quantities of particulates and smoke that are more commonly seen in third-world countries.
So what’s to be done? While you are a politician and I ascribe to the notion that politics is the art of the possible, there are some quick wins that are available.
Implement the road building programme, in particular the easing of bottlenecks with which every driver is, sadly, all too familiar. Your road engineers know every bottleneck in the country and what can be done to alleviate it. While Alistair Darling has promised much in road development, let us now see its implementation.
We must also look at the smart and the technical solutions. Re-design road junctions to improve safety and ease traffic flows. Make greater use of existing road space by managing traffic better, phasing traffic lights properly and clearing accidents, when they do unfortunately occur, all the more quickly. Congestion is costing UK Plc at least £15 billion a year.
On road safety too, there is action to be taken. The industry is already placing huge emphasis on driving at work and we were pleased that David Jamieson was able to launch the BVRLA Guide to Driving at Work in April. We may be doing our bit to raise not just awareness but standards as well, but out among the fleet operators there is still a worrying lack of recognition.
This is especially true among small to medium enterprises, where awareness of health and safety rules for their drivers is low to non-existent. The leasing industry is doing its bit. Many of our members publish leaflets and booklets on the topic, many of which are distributed free to their customers, but central Government must do more to raise awareness not only of the issues but also the solutions. A national campaign is needed to force home the message that merely paying lip service is not enough – there has to be commitment from the board of every company where people drive on the firm’s behalf and not only to protect its own workforce but also to protect every other road user.
And, finally, enforcement. All too often, the Government swings its sledgehammer into action when the target is a mere hazelnut. The shotgun is employed when the rifle would have been a better choice. Let me quote an example. Duty dodgers. People who haven’t paid their Vehicle Excise Duty. The DVLA tell us that such people are likely to be uninsured, have no MoT and maybe not even a licence to drive. And uninsured drivers cost every honest motorist at least £30 a year in increased premiums. Hardly fair, is it?
So we should use the technology that is available – ANPR cameras. With mobile automatic number plate reading technology, such cars can be identified immediately and stopped by a police car parked further along the road. Simple, straightforward and very effective. But blanket schemes such as continuous registration also hit the ordinary motorist who may have forgotten to renew his licence by a few days. Catch the criminal, not the law-abiding.
So, Minister, just three things – transport infrastructure, road safety and smarter enforcement. Not too much to ask, is it?
Director General British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association