Luckily for Transport Minister Dr Stephen Ladyman, whose appointment I managed to keep, this mammoth area of responsibility lies elsewhere.
However, he already has a daunting task in front of him tackling nine key areas of responsibility, chief among which are road safety, the Highways Agency and strategic road network policy, vehicles and fuels, transport technology and research.
In addition, he also needs to find time to fit in his role as Europe minister. Yet he is commendably relaxed about the whole thing.
‘I like driving cars and riding bikes, so being roads minister is a bit like being a kid in a candy shop,’ he says.
Clearly, his job is much more than that, although he currently drives 18,000 miles a year on business, but it shows an affinity to the fleet industry that will be an encouragement to many in the fleet industry.
His experience of fleet stems from his life outside politics. In the 1980s and 1990s he worked in computing and IT consulting, including a spell with Pfizer Central Research in Kent, and during that time he covered high mileages in a company car. He has also travelled extensively in his political career, especially since being elected as South Thanet MP in 1997.
Between 1999 and 2001 he was a member of the Environment, Transport and the Regions Select Committee and Transport sub-committee and served in several roles before two years as Minister for Community in the Department of Health, which ended when he took his transport role post General Election. For a decade, he also used his motorcycle more than his car, although he has mainly used four-wheeled transport over the past 10 years.
His understanding and willingness to communicate with the industry is particularly important as research recently showed the majority of fleet managers didn’t vote Labour in the last General Election, so they will be a tough audience to please.
Yet rather than play to the crowd, Ladyman already has to tackle some major issues facing the industry, ranging from how to ease the chronic congestion afflicting most cities and major routes to how to make the roads safer.
Last week, Fleet News reported that Ladyman had put fleets at the heart of any strategy to tackle key problems facing motorists.
He said: ‘This sector and its members are very important to me in helping us deliver our targets, such as reducing the number of people killed and seriously injured on our roads and targeting climate change.’
Ladyman has promised to listen to the fleet industry and take on board its concerns, including issues that aren’t directly related to fleets.
In a Fleet News Round Table held last month, fleet decision-makers sent their message to Government, which the Minister read. He agreed with the call regarding the danger of uninsured drivers, who take the risk because the penalties if caught are so small.
Ladyman said the Greenaway Report into insurance issues had begun the process of tackling offenders, with tougher penalties. He added: ‘The police have the powers to crush cars and I would encourage them to use those powers. My message to fleets is that I am with them. Uninsured driving is a big problem, but it is going down.’
Why engaging in the debate over road pricing is essential
ROAD pricing is set to be one of the biggest debates facing the industry over the next few years. Although it may not be launched for 20 years, the Government is pushing ahead with feasibility studies and the fleet industry has a place at the negotiating table, according to Ladyman.
He said: ‘It is vital that we engage in the debate on road pricing. The message is that the fleet industry is a vitally important sector. We have not made our minds up yet about who will be involved in the trials. There are pilots of the systems, vehicles, technology and also we are looking at whether road pricing will change people’s behaviour. If it didn’t and just became a revenue collection device, it wouldn’t reduce congestion so there would be no point doing it.’
Ladyman insisted the trials will be voluntary, but that the Government was focused on getting the ball rolling. He said: ‘There will be no compulsion to take part in these trials and even though it is 10-15 years away we still need to have the trials in place in two years otherwise we won’t make our target.’
Already more than £200 million a year is to be invested in a transport innovation fund by the Government as one of the first moves towards a national road pricing system for Britain.
Alistair Darling revealed details of the fund’s plans with a warning that Britain will face gridlock in the next 20 years if action isn’t taken to tackle congestion. Part of the fund will help local authorities and organisations carry out local trials of road pricing systems as part of a plan to have a national scheme up and running in about 15 years.
It is part of a wide range of schemes designed to tackle congestion, he said. Darling argued that a 4% reduction in traffic would create a 40% cut in congestion and added: ‘We have to agree on how to deal with the problems of the future. There are currently 32 million cars on our roads and by 2030 the population will have grown by six million. We could face gridlock in the next 20 to 30 years.’
Although concerns have been raised about whether road pricing can work, Ministers have been encouraged by the success financial incentives had on company car tax. Since the tax on company cars was focused on emissions, drivers have switched in their droves to low CO2 cars, mainly diesels, and manufacturers have responded by launching new derv variants.
Ladyman hinted that if road pricing goes ahead, company car tax could be axed and replaced with a new system based on mileage. He said: ‘The company car tax changes show that people respond to tax-based initiatives. If we go down road pricing route, all these vehicle-related taxes are going to be reviewed. We are putting together a mechanism for building stakeholder groups and will make sure the fleet industry is represented in the debate.’
Fact file: Dr Stephen Ladyman
Work record prior to General Election: