Measures to improve air quality, including a complete ban on the sale of diesel cars and vans, have been outlined in the parties’ manifestos ahead of the general election.
The Liberal Democrats have taken arguably the most severe stance by promising to ban the sale of diesel cars and small vans by 2025, supported by a diesel scrappage scheme and more ultra-low emission zones (ULEZs). For many fleets this would come within two replacement cycles.
Labour has set its sights on diesel buses, which it believes is the biggest cause of air pollution (all three parties have plans for low emission buses). However, it outlined no specific measures for funding ULEVs.
Meanwhile, the Conservative Party retains its target for almost all new cars and vans to be zero emission by 2050, together with its commitment to invest £600 million by 2020 to achieve it.
But, after it was forced by the courts to publish its air quality report ahead of the election, it fails to feature in the Tory plan for Government.
While the Lib Dems is the only party to lay out specific plans for an outright ban on diesel, many in the fleet sector fear the next Government could be tempted to target diesel vehicles through the tax regime, with a rise in diesel fuel duty a distinct possibility.
Fuel duty has been frozen since it was reduced by 1p per litre (ppl) in 2011. But, it remains the highest in Europe at 57.95ppl, representing a significant cost to business.
The Freight Transport Association (FTA), the Road Haulage Association (RHA), and RAC have called on all political parties not to risk economic growth by targeting diesel duty.
Publishing their own manifestos ahead of the national vote, the trade associations have put fuel duty, congestion, investment in roads and skills, road safety and a Brexit deal which delivers for the fleet industry among their chief policy concerns.
Christopher Snelling, head of national policy at the FTA, argues that the sector should not be targeted for a pollution problem which is “the responsibility of all”.
He said: “There is no environmental purpose to increasing diesel duty on vans and lorries as, unlike diesel car drivers, operators of these vehicles currently have no realistic alternative.”
In fact, the FTA and RHA want the next Government to cut fuel duty, after a study from the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) showed the economic benefits.
Snelling said: “A 3ppl reduction in fuel duty would boost the economy and be revenue neutral for the Government. The resulting additional spending would reinvigorate the economy.”
In its manifesto, the RHA argues: “High duty drives up costs for companies and consumers, undermining the competitiveness of the UK and undermining the working capital of businesses.
“The impact in the more remote areas of the UK – further from suppliers and major markets – is especially damaging.
“The next Government needs to reduce the differential between duty rates in the UK and the rest of the EU.”
Meanwhile, the RAC is urging the next Government to commit to no further increases in fuel duty for the duration of the entire next parliament.
RAC’s chief executive officer Dave Hobday said: “It is vital, with motoring taxation at record levels, that there should be a commitment not to increase fuel duty,” otherwise he warned “it could stifle economic growth”.
Labour’s manifesto makes no mention of fuel duty and contains no specific target or funding commitments on plug-in cars. Instead, there is a promise to position the UK at the forefront of the development, manufacture and use of ULEVs.
It also wants to retrofit thousands of diesel buses in areas with the most severe air quality problems to Euro 6 standards.
Labour says its plans will encourage and enable people to get out of their cars, for better health and a cleaner environment.
However, the Liberal Democrats want to completely ban the sale of diesel cars and vans by 2025. The party’s plans include a diesel scrappage scheme and extending ultra-low-emission zones (ULEZs) to 10 more towns and cities.
All private hire vehicles and diesel buses licensed to operate in urban areas would also have to run on ultra-low-emission or zero-emission fuels within five years, according to its manifesto.
Furthermore, the Lib Dems would reform vehicle taxation to encourage sales of electric and low-emission vehicles and develop electric vehicle infrastructure, including universal charging points.
Fleets lean towards tories
Prior to the manifestos being launched, a Fleet News poll asked readers which political party they thought would best protect fleet interests.
Almost two-thirds (66%) said they believed the Conservatives would do the best job for the fleet industry; just one in seven (15%) picked Labour.
With 8% of the vote, support for the Liberal Democrats was slimmer still, but it was still twice as strong as the 4% polled by UKIP.
The Fair Fuel UK campaign complained that apart from the “naïve plans” of the Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Conservatives were giving no details around VED or fuel duty.
Founder Howard Cox said: “All political parties are willing to fleece hard-working drivers, small business and the haulage industry, with the highest motoring taxes worldwide, but are unwilling to say what they plan for them in the next parliament.”
In light of that uncertainty, and the current Government’s plan to review the tax treatment of diesel vehicles, Venson Automotive Solutions is urging fleet managers to review their reliance on the fuel type.
According to the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA), diesel vehicles remain a vital part of the fleet mix, as they have the most energy-efficient internal combustion engines.
However, Samantha Roff, managing director for Venson Automotive Solutions, said: “The signal that the Government is looking at introducing diesel vehicle tax changes that are likely to mean tax rises, could prove to be the catalyst to further drive fleets towards plug-in vehicles.”
Political parties back investment in transport
The Tories say they will:
■ Continue to develop the strategic road network, providing extra lanes on motorways, improving key routes and fixing pinch points.
■ Scrap the tolls on the Severn Bridge.
■ Focus on creating extra capacity on the railways.
■ Increase services on our main lines and commuter routes, and launch new services to places which are poorly served.
■ Continue a programme of strategic national investments, including High Speed 2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and the expansion of Heathrow Airport.
Labour says it will:
■ Continue to upgrade the road network and improve bottlenecks.
■ Urgently look at improving the A1 North, the Severn Bridge and the A30.
■ Scrap the tolls on the Severn Bridge.
■ Aim for zero deaths on UK roads and reintroduce road safety targets.
■ Bring private rail companies back into public ownership as their franchises expire.
■ Complete the HS2 high-speed rail line from London through Birmingham to Leeds and Manchester, and into Scotland.
Lib Dems say they will:
■ Invest capital in major transport improvements and infrastructure.
■ Shift more freight from road to rail.
■ Deliver the Transport for the North strategy.
■ Complete East-West Rail, connecting Oxford and Cambridge.
■ Pursue the electrification of the rail network, improve stations, reopen smaller stations, restore twin-track lines to major routes and proceed with HS2, HS3 and Crossrail 2, including development of a high-speed network stretching to Scotland.