Budget 2011: Osborne must wean nation off addiction to oil

Simon Bullock, senior economics campaigner at Friends of the Earth, reveals FoE's ten-point plan for how the chancellor can wean the country off its addiction to oil in his Budget on Wednesday.

By Simon Bullock, senior economics campaigner at Friends of the Earth

Rocketing pump prices have had a costly impact on motorists across the country – it cost me fifty quid to fill up our family’s little car this weekend… But help is at hand.

Although the price hikes are mainly due to factors outside of UK control, chancellor George Osborne promised last week:

“I am doing everything I can to find a way to help.”

This is great news. Mr Osborne has numerous tools at his disposal – and next week’s Budget is the ideal opportunity to use them.

The clamour to cut the planned 1p fuel duty rise is growing and Labour has weighed in to the debate by calling for the 2.5 per cent rise in VAT on fuel to be cut. These arguments are a distraction from the real issue – and the proposed measures won’t even bring prices down to those of a year ago.

The sooner we get away from this annual squabble over fuel duty the better. As global oil prices rise, the real solution is for the UK to wean itself off its oil addiction – we must end our crippling dependency on the black gunk produced by some of the world’s most unstable and nasty regimes.

Many people are already looking at ways to cut their petrol consumption – car shares, public transport, reducing their speed. But not all of these options are easy for everyone, which is why the Budget is so important.

If Mr Osborne is serious about doing everything he can to help us here are ten things he could announce next Wednesday:

1. Cut the roads budget

Four thousand million pounds’ worth of road schemes are still in the pipeline. Wasting so much money investing in more oil-dependent travel is crazily short-sighted. The schemes should be scrapped to fund measures that help people and businesses cope with rising fuel costs – including the following proposals:

2. Cut council tax, not fuel duty

With further to travel and less effective public transport, less well-off rural drivers suffer most from higher petrol prices. But rich businessmen in gas-guzzling Mercedeses in Knightsbridge benefit as much from fuel duty cuts as poor rural families. Mr Osborne should fund a rural council tax rebate to counter petrol rises – better targeted help at those who really need it.

3. Improve public transport in the countryside

Reverse the cuts to bus funding announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review. Public transport investment creates more jobs than road building.

4. Support rural post offices and services

Preserving and enhancing local rural shops and services – with rural rate reductions for essential services – would mean people don’t have to travel so far to reach essential services.

5. Improve public transport in cities

Make our cities greener by restoring funding to public transport schemes facing the axe such as the Leeds trolley bus, Manchester rail improvements and Bristol’s rapid bus service.

6. Make it easier for more people to walk and cycle

Most car journeys are less than five miles, and many are ideal for walking and cycling. Doubling the cost-effective Local Sustainable Transport Fund to £1bn would help councils encourage more people to use their cars less.

7. Give tax breaks for greener driving and business travel plans

Give tax relief to businesses to promote eco-driving training programmes (which can cut fuel bills by 10 per cent) and greener travelling through car-sharing and alternatives like public transport.

8. Tax breaks for video-conferencing equipment

Modern video-conferencing could save professionals many time-consuming journeys, and government support would help businesses with the initial cost of buying the kit.

9. Create more electric car charging points

The ‘plugged-in places’ funding for electric car charging points only covers three cities and five regions – it must be rolled out nationwide to make it a success.

10. Help haulage industry cut its fuel consumption

Introduce lorry road-user charging to help cut empty truck running – which accounts for more than a quarter of all lorry mileage.

The government has talked endlessly about the urgent need to develop alternatives to gas, coal and oil. Now it’s time to deliver.

Cutting fuel duty is merely a sticking plaster solution. The chancellor must administer tougher medicine to build a strong and healthy low-carbon economy fit for the future – and protect us all from the threat of future price hikes.

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