Government minister sticks to his mistaken claim that motorists pay for roads

Mike Penning Roads Minister

Such a view would be disturbing if it was a junior minister in the foreign office. What makes it shocking is that the MP who holds this view is the Minister for Roads. At a meeting in parliament yesterday I asked the minister if he would retract a statement from last year when he had claimed “the motorist…predominantly pays for our roads.”

I assumed Mike Penning, MP for Hemel Hempstead, would retract his earlier statement. It was but a tiny part of a much longer speech on his love for motorsport. My story would have been ‘Minister backtracks on roads funding mistake and states official DfT line.’

Instead, he stuck to his guns. I taped the exchange. Listen below. It’s just under four minutes long. (The person saying “hypothecation” to the minister is Lord Hoffman, the former Law Lord).

I asked the minister, what pays for roads. He answered:

“Tax. Fuel duty and VED…Yes, it’s hypothecation but a percentage of it does come back in. I stand by it then, I stand by it now. The fact that someone pays for something doesn’t give them rights, it just means they contributed to it…I want to protect cyclists as much as possible but at the same time I also passionately believe the motorist in this country does pay for an awful lot of the service on the road.”

Before he shut down my questioning, I would have liked to ask the minister if his officials in the Department for Transport have ever briefed him on the funding of roads? The UK Government has a long-standing policy on the heresy of taxation ring-fencing. The dedication of the revenue of a specific tax for a specific expenditure purpose is rare. The main UK example of hypothecation is the TV licence fee, a ring-fencing of funds for the BBC.

Taxes and Charges on Road Users, a 2009 report by the Transport Select Committee, said hypothecation is “the establishment of a direct link between specific taxes or charges and specific expenditure. For example, taxes levied on alcohol might be earmarked for spending on hospitals. In the UK there is no such link for taxes.”

The report said:

“the Government opposes the idea of hypothecation of tax revenues. It argues that decisions about revenue raising and spending should be kept separate for two main reasons: if all income were to be hypothecated, it would create severe difficulties for those services that could not readily raise revenues, such as schools, hospitals, police and defence; and inefficiencies would result. For example, if a large sum was raised from road users, hypothecation would dictate that it was all spent on roads (or possibly other transport modes, such as buses), even if the public priority was for more investment in, say, education.”

Penning came into yesterday’s meeting – staged by the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, and chaired by Julian Huppert, the MP for Cambridge – ahead of one of his DfT aides and claimed he hadn’t seen the list of questions that meeting attendees had been asked to submit in advance.

Penning’s quick and erroneous defence of his statement of March 2011 should therefore be seen as his personal views, and would not be backed up by officials in the Department for Transport.

The official policy of the Policy and External Communications Directorate of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, an executive agency of the Department for Transport, is this:

“There has been no direct relationship between vehicle tax and road expenditure since 1937.”

The money paid by motorists does not go back directly to motorists. If it did, all hell would break loose. Interest groups of all creeds and colours would start demanding “their” tax contributions should only go to fund “their” projects. Society does not work that way; can not work that way.

There are no taxation opt-outs: married couples without kids cannot strike out the amount of tax that pays for schools; pacifists cannot strike out the amount of tax that goes on defence spending. And motorists can’t successfully demand that the money they give to the Government is given straight back to them in the shape of smoother, less congested roads.

Roads are a shared national resource, paid for by all taxpayers, not just motorists. The public highway is, by definition, for the benefit of the public, not a sub-set of the public.

In other words, to motorists it needs to be stressed: “You own a car, not the road.”

One of the first Tory MPs to realise that motorists will assert assumed rights to a road network they think they have paid for was Winston Churchill.

In 1926, he wanted to scrap the Road Fund, a pot of cash contributed by motorists and used to repair – not build – a few stretches of road in the 1920s.

To a deputation of rural interests, Churchill said his proposed abolition of the Road Fund was not anti-motorist:

“Let me say clearly, I have an expensive motor car, and use it a great deal, and I have nothing personal in my argument – I am speaking from a detached point of view.”

Churchill’s opposition to the Road Fund was largely financial – taxation ring-fencing was heretical then just as it is heretical today – but not exclusively so. Fearing motorists would lay claim to roads by dint of paying for a small portion of their repair, he wrote:

“It will be only a step from this for [motorists] to claim in a few years the moral ownership of the roads their contributions have created.”

WinstonChurchill1925CommonSense

In a note to Churchill by the man who had pushed Lloyd George to make the ring-fencing pledge to motorists in the first place, Austen Chamberlain wrote:

“I certainly never imagined such a statement could be construed by any sensible man as binding on Governments or Parliament with no regard to time or circumstances.”

In 1927, the Treasury noted that the main supporters of the Road Fund were private motoring organisations who wanted road improvements not for the good of the country but to drive faster: “it is clearly absurd that the State should be asked to provide large and ever-increasing sums for what are virtually pleasure racing tracks.”

The Road Fund was drained of cash in 1927 and finally abolished in 1937.

Belief in the continued existence of ‘road tax’ and the Road Fund was heavily engrained at the highest levels. Conservative MP Colonel JTC Moore Brabazon, Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Transport in 1923-7, and even Minister for Transport in 1940-1, said in a 1932 speech in the House of Commons, that money that went to the Road Fund was

“motorists’ money. It is not Imperial taxation. It is money that comes from the motorists, to be spent on one definite thing, namely the roads.”

In this view – a view shared by Penning – Moore Brabazon was wrong. All tax payers pay for roads, just as all tax payers pay for hospitals and all tax payers pay for schools. Fuel duty and vehicle excise duty is paid into the consolidated fund – the national coffers – and is not, and can not, be used to pay for roads directly. Saying “motorists pay for roads” is the same as saying that “smokers pay for roads”. Indirectly, both do. And that’s the point: motorists do not pay directly for roads.

Motorists are taxed on buying and using their vehicles. VED is not a tax on roads, it’s now a tax on emissions: cars which spew the most CO2 pay the most Vehicle Excise Duty. Cars which spew less CO2, pay less VED. Cars in VED band A pay zero duty.

Tax-payers – some of whom own cars, some of whom don’t – pay for roads. Roads are paid for out of general and local taxation.

It’s important for ministers to get their facts right on this issue. Why? Because it’s an issue that causes danger for one class of road user: cyclists. Some motorists believe cyclists “don’t pay road tax” and have lesser rights to be on roads. This can lead to animosity towards cyclists, and even violence. And it’s doubly important for the Minister for Roads to get this right: he’s no longer a lone MP, he’s a minister of the crown and should recite official DfT policy.

Mike Penning is not a nuanced, shades-of-grey politician. A former soldier and fireman, he’s blunt and bruising. He’s also in a position of power and ought to be on top of his brief. On what and who pays for roads, he’s wrong. This is worrying.

Responding to this article, via Twitter, Julian Huppert MP said: “Ministers don’t have to come to APPGs. I want them to keep coming so we can change their minds on issues like this.”

My response was that shy bairns get nowt, and the minister should be held to account when he gets something factually wrong. Mike Penning may think his statement that motorists pay for roads is a non-issue but it’s not. The intimidation of cyclists for “not paying road tax” is a common occurrence. Penning is Minister for Roads (and road safety) not Minister for Cars.

Click to listen to the whole meeting: it’s 42 minutes long and includes questions asked by CTC and British Cycling on the DfTs ‘trial’ of longer lorries.

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Does the fact the Minister for Roads doesn’t seem terribly au fait with what actually pays for roads bother you? Wear the iPayRoadTax jersey and tell the world!

  • Beth A

    You know, it’s exactly these type of political answers that just don’t help. I found it quite incredulous to hear the minister say “believe it or not you have a friend…”. Well if he wasn’t supporting *all* road users, he’d be failing at his job. You were quite right to push him on this and your point that motorists use exact argument this against cyclists and pedestrians was very well made indeed. Vehicles have struck me while I am cycling and if I point this out they use that very response. I’d like to make this clear to the minister; drivers do use their vehicles to threaten me, backed up by their misconception that they pay for the roads and I don’t.nnIf anybody *should* use the correct language then it’s him. Thank you for posting this.

  • http://www.quickrelease.tv carltonreid

    He needs to be pushed and pushed on this point. He’s the Minister for Roads, for gawd’s sake!

  • Baldcyclist

    I am a cyclist mostly, but I am also a driver.nAs much as his comments are factually incorrect. He intimates that through “nTax. Fuel duty and VEDu00a0″ that the motorists pay more in taxation. By the very fact that a motorist pays Fuel duty, where someone else might not, and therefore (possibly) a higher % of their income goes into general taxation, and therefore a higher proportion may go towards roads, is more likely to be what his argument actually boils down too.nnSo, as much as I personally wouldn’tu00a0condoneu00a0his statements in that form, I do hold some sympathy for the position that ahem ‘motorists pay their fair share’, that of course is NOT to imply that others (me included as a cyclist) do not pay their fair share.

  • http://www.quickrelease.tv carltonreid

    He is the Minister for Roads. He needs to know his brief inside out. He was giving personal, backbench MP-style views when he should have been giving minister-style views. The DfT via the DVLA has a policy and a statement on what pays for roads, he should repeat that, not spout forth personal views that are both inaccurate and insensitive.

  • Beth A

    Would also like to add that there is a good reason that motorists pay more in tax which has nothing to do with ‘roads’ per se; because burning fossil fuels is exceptionally damaging to the environment and to people. It does cost the UK a huge amount in many ways including medical treatment for people suffering from conditions such as asthma and dealing with the effect of fatal and life-changing incidents on the roads. The issue with the type of language that he uses is that it almost gives drivers an excuse to ignore this type of effect because they ‘pay their fair share’ so have the right to keep doing what they’re doing.nnI also have a car licence and motorcycle licence but don’t own either things. I do hire cars occasionally when I need one, mostly from street-parked cars by the hour.

  • Beth A

    Would also like to add that there is a good reason that motorists pay more in tax which has nothing to do with ‘roads’ per se; because burning fossil fuels is exceptionally damaging to the environment and to people. It does cost the UK a huge amount in many ways including medical treatment for people suffering from conditions such as asthma and dealing with the effect of fatal and life-changing incidents on the roads. The issue with the type of language that he uses is that it almost gives drivers an excuse to ignore this type of effect because they ‘pay their fair share’ so have the right to keep doing what they’re doing.nnI also have a car licence and motorcycle licence but don’t own either things. I do hire cars occasionally when I need one, mostly from street-parked cars by the hour.

  • Dombat

    This 2009 blog shows that motorists are still subsidised. Therefore bikes, peds & horses own the roads! http://kimharding.net/blog/?p=470

  • Dombat

    This 2009 blog shows that motorists are still subsidised. Therefore bikes, peds & horses own the roads! http://kimharding.net/blog/?p=470

  • Beth A

    Absolutely. If there is one person that gets this right then it should be him. Excuses are not in any way appropriate.

  • Beth A

    Absolutely. If there is one person that gets this right then it should be him. Excuses are not in any way appropriate.

  • Ric

    who can we complain to? can you develop a “template” type letter that we can download and then send (post/email?) to him. any other suggestions?

  • http://www.quickrelease.tv carltonreid

    I dislike template letters and MPs constantly complain about them, too. nMike Penning’s email address is: mike@penning4hemel.comnnHowever, I don’t feel he’ll budge, unless asked to do so via his superiors. nDfT has a contacts form: https://www.dft.gov.uk/about/contact/form/nnPress office: pressoffice@dsa.gsi.gov.uknnDfT twitter account: https://twitter.com/#!/transportgovuk

  • Anonymous

    I, on occasion, ride a scooter, drive a car, but mostly ride a bike u00a0- this mans a joke !

  • Anonymous

    An amateur in a professionals job! – he needs to be replaced imo.

  • spindrift

    When asked what he would do to protect cyclists on trunk roads – a cyclist had been killed on the A19 the day before – Penning stressed that cyclists ought to be more visible and wandered off into an example of his well-lit daughter, cycling while at university in Cambridge, compared to her flat mates who did not dress up like Christmas trees.nhttp://www.bikebiz.com/news/read/cycle-organisations-meet-with-minister-for-cars/012519nWe don’t know whether the cyclist who was tragically killed was unlit.nWe do know that fewer than 2% of cycling fatalities have unlit cyclists as a causal factor.nWe also know the investigation into the cyclist’s death hasn’t even begun yet.nSo why is the Minister For Roads offering excuses for a motorist involved in a fatal RTC?

  • John

    As the secretary of the Southeast Essex Member Group and the President of the Essex Member Groups I feel that this MP should be stripped of his office as he is a danger to theu00a0generalu00a0public andu00a0anyoneu00a0who uses the roads.u00a0

  • Andy

    Just goes to show that the education about road safety is severely lacking if an MP cant see he is insighting hatred toward cyclists by not using the correct information. large bilboards and advertising about where peoples money goes would be a good start in creating a better relationship between cyclists and motorists.

  • Bob Toomey1

    To have Mike Penning as Minister for Roads is an insult to all road users.Like many other CTC members I also drive a motor vehicle,perhaps Penning would like us all to get off our bicycles and replace them with our cars.This man is totally out of touch,and should be replaced by someone more appropiate.

  • Anonymous

    Some finance statistics would be helpful to the argument here. u00a0nnu00a0For example if there’s u00a34billion raised in revenue each year from the various road related taxes and then there’s u00a34 billion which is spent annually on supporting the road network then it would be a fair’ish argument to say that the money raised by road related taxes (ie. from motorists) is used to pay for roads.However, if the money raised by road-use taxation is only a small percentage of what is spent, with the rest coming from general taxation, then he’s completely wrong and should be put right.nnAnyone know figures for the UK ?

  • http://www.quickrelease.tv carltonreid

    And if u00a34bn were raised by chicken farmers should chicken farmers get all that u00a34bn back to make better chicken farms?

  • Anonymous

    But that’s my point. u00a0If expenditure matches specific taxation then it can be argued that that money is used to pay for that service. u00a0Whether it goes into the “General Taxation Pot” first or not. u00a0 And thus u00a0my quest.u00a0nnWhat is the comparison of money spent on roads compared to money raised from road related taxatioin ? u00a0I honestly don’t know.

  • http://www.quickrelease.tv carltonreid

    Even if receipts did match expenditure there would be no direct link, just a coincidence as monies from the consolidated fund – the national coffers – are distributed from a central pot. nThe comparison of monies raised and spent by and for motoring, and rebuttal of the standard ‘motorists pay u00a3x in taxation so should be given u00a3x in motoring spending’ are here: http://ipayroadtax.com/itv-ignorance-about-road-tax/why-isnt-beer-tax-used-to-build-better-pubs/ nIf anything, the externalities of motoring mean that motorists are heavily subsidised.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for that . u00a0It was interesting to see all the figures in the link.nThe externalities aspect is interesting in that it is projected as though it should be a penalty that should be borne by motorists alone for giving them the right to own and use motor vehicles. u00a0 But that should not be brought into the equation in my opinion. u00a0Why u00a0? u00a0Because our modern society and way of life could not be supported without the use of such integrated motoring network. u00a0 Every facet of our 21st century lives is dependent on the motor vehicle, even if that link appears tenuous or circuitously indirect.nnSo, given that u00a348 billion is raised in taxation I would expect more than u00a38-9 billion to be spent on maintaining and upgrading that structure, including the installation of an on-road integrated cycling network that we see so often in continental Europe.nnI find it a national disgrace that our quality of road surface in this country is so far lacking from the rest of Europe. u00a0 If they manage to provide a better network through taxation then how come we can’t ? u00a0 Mismanagement and a lack of will would be my answer.

  • john

    I have paid income tax, national insurance, puchase tax, VAT, rates, council tax, duty on petrol and diesel, road fund licence and car tax for fifty years, I think that lot entitles me to cycle on the roads

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/2SZI7MOKR6OET3R6YXZJQC5WGQ John Athon

    I actually do pay road tax. The road comes round to my house and breaks my legs unless I constantly throw quarters at it.

  • Alex

    To be honest, after listening to the recording of your interview, I agree with Penning. You are being a typical journalist and twisting his words to suit your cause. This is highly dissapointing as I am a strong supporter for the cause and am a regular cyclist as well as motorist. His point was not that Vehicle Tax pays for roads, but that when comparing a driver to a non driver, the driver will generally have contributed towards the road in a larger way, which is a fact you cannot deny.

    I apologise if this has been said before, the page is not loading properly and I cannot see any previous comments.

  • http://www.quickrelease.tv carltonreid

    How will the driver have contributed more than the non-driver? Some non-drivers are *huge* tax payers so will have paid more in general taxation. And it’s general taxation that pays for roads.

  • Alex

    Are you saying that fuel duty has absolutely no effect on the roads? If so, fair enough, I will subtract my comment.

  • Alex

    Are you saying that fuel duty has absolutely no effect on the roads? If so, fair enough, I will subtract my comment.

  • Alex

    Are you saying that fuel duty has absolutely no effect on the roads? If so, fair enough, I will subtract my comment.

  • Alex

    Are you saying that fuel duty has absolutely no effect on the roads? If so, fair enough, I will subtract my comment.

  • http://www.quickrelease.tv carltonreid

    Exactly. Fuel duty – just like VED – is not hypothecated. In other words, it goes into the general taxation pot, it’s not ring-fenced. Read the ipayroadtax article on cigarette and booze taxation: smokers and drinkers also pay lots in tax but the money raised isn’t ring fenced for building tobacconist infrastructure or bigger pubs.

    Every tax payer pays for roads; roads are not paid for by motorists alone.

  • http://opishposh.com/10-dogs-that-dont-shed/ grudginghallowed

    Thats fantastic..