UK hauliers see no level playing field with foreign trucks

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The findings of the Burns freight taxes inquiry were released in a press briefing yesterday (22nd November 2005), announcing that 96 per cent of all road hauliers see no level playing field with foreign operators.

The report revealed that there is a widespread pessimism about Government inertia, as a direct result of the unexpected decision to abandon the Lorry Road User Charge scheme (LRUC) in July 05. In response, the Freight Transport Association (FTA) and Road Haulage Association (RHA), came together in a single industry platform to commission the fully independent freight taxes report, to bring the question of high freight taxes back to the fore. Although there was much debate in the industry about the merits of the scheme, it was felt that the LRUC at least offered a structured means of regulation. The Government currently does not expect to review the situation again until 2020, which many believe to be far too long. The Burns report has revealed that £3bn will amount in road tax costs before this date.

The evidence confirmed that foreign road hauliers gain an unfair advantage due to fuel duty being more expensive in the UK than the rest of Europe, it was also accepted that truck and car fuel duty levels must be decoupled. It found that foreign registered trucks should be charged for using UK roads and that enforcement rigour is inconsistent across Europe and has an impact on UK safety levels.

Robbie Burns, chairman of the inquiry, said that: “This inquiry is all about producing evidence, not trying to prove a policy case for Government.” The report sent out hundreds of questionnaires and those involved with the inquiry attended more than thirty meetings around the country. Over 3,000 industry contacts were connected with the inquiry, and supplied evidence from a broad range of companies. The response received was around 3.8per cent on a 20,000 sample. This was above market research response averages which are around 2.5per cent. The report found that the UK experienced 1.5 million foreign truck visits each year and 1.1bn kms were travelled in the UK with no UK fuel duty being paid. The findings estimated that £250m of extra fuel tax income could be earned if foreign hauliers were required to purchase UK fuel and not carry their own as they currently do. Other results include;

  • UK operators pay up to 30% higher fuel duty than other EU countries.
  • 93 per cent of buyers involved in the study believe that foreign operators currently assist in depressing the market.
  • 50 per cent of Hire and reward operators have lost business to foreign haulage companies.
  • 15,000 haulage vehicles were stopped by VOSA in 2004, for 26,000 checks. This represents a 1 per cent chance of being caught.

In summary, Burns said: “We were asked to consider independently the state of the industry regarding fuel tax and unfair foreign competition. This was done with maximum energy across many businesses and we received a good response from a pessimistic community in deep despair.” The inquiry has now made a number of recommendations to the Government including that; foreign vehicles should cover their full UK costs based on vehicle charge, UK operators should receive a rebate for this charge through fuel credits aligned to quarterly VAT returns, a rebate system to decouple UK trucks from cars should be implemented, VOSA enforcement resources should be extended and focussed on driver’s hours and weight checks with transparency of data across Europe. Burns said that: “We’ve given evidence to Government and invited them to engage with us to solve the policy problems.” Most importantly it was felt that the Government must re-engage with the industry.

The Burns Inquiry report will be available from Tuesday 29 November on the dedicated website

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