Congestion charging schemes or, more accurately, road tolls, are a tax on business, shopping and employment.
We at the FPB, where we champion the cause of more than 25,000 firms throughout Britain, have carried out stark and compelling research showing that small businesses in London have been devastated by the congestion charge.
For example, well over half (58%) of our members have seen a drop in profits since the scheme was introduced in 2003. An FPB survey of 1,000 London firms in September 2005 revealed a third of bosses are thinking of relocating since the charge increased from £5 to £8 a day last July.
The harsh reality of congestion charging is that it hurts those the hardest who can least afford it – namely small businesses. Not only have we found that shoppers stay away from charging zones, but employees have to pay more to get to work, tradesmen charge businesses more to come out or stay away altogether and, of course, businesses visiting clients or making deliveries within the zone are hit by an additional cost.
The FPB urges councils to learn from London’s outstandingly bad mistake and ditch any plans to introduce similar schemes across the UK. At the very least, councils should hold referendums before imposing these schemes, as happened in Edinburgh last year, when road tolls were rejected by seven out of 10 voters.
The key to easing congestion is greater investment in public transport, but less than 14% of tax gained from fuel and road duties is spent on roads and public transport.
Successive governments have consistently failed to invest in the sort of modern-day public transport system enjoyed in most European towns and cities today. A selection of quotes from FPB members across the UK include:
‘IF there is a congestion charge I would move out. Just look at London. In the light of hiking up the charge to £8 a day why don’t they just replace the congestion charging signs with pound signs? That is all congestion charging is – a money-making exercise. Birmingham does not need a congestion charge – the congestion is not that bad.’
John McAleer, chief executive, Red Point, Birmingham
‘CAMBRIDGE is already business-unfriendly, thanks to its car parking charges. I pay £1,000 a month in congestion charges to send my vans into London. A Cambridge charge would be yet another cost. There is not enough traffic in Cambridge to make it pay.’
Jim Welch, managing director, Welch’s Transpor
‘WE need to park and deliver around the city centre. A congestion charge would affect our call-out and service charges. It’s going to add up for our customers.’
Vicki Lockwood, company secretary, ATS Business Machines, Cardiff
‘MANCHESTER is not gridlocked to the same extent as London – this is a money-making exercise. Wages and fees to clients would have to be adjusted upwards. We need a comprehensive public transport system into and out of the city centre to replace cars, but the trains still don’t run on time.’
Malcolm Ealand, GBM Group, Ancoats
‘IF this ever happened it would just be another nail in the coffin for Preston. It’s a terrible idea which can only drive trade away. A congestion charge would adversely affect my business.’
David Seed, managing director, Hellewells (Preston)
‘I AM totally opposed to congestion charging in Warrington. Having yet another tax would just screw businesses into the ground. We pay enough taxes as it is in the town, though we don’t get good value for money.’
Joseph Kavanagh, managing director, Just Fiestas