The Chancellor must use Budget 2018 to tackle air quality which costs the UK £20 billion a year
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Chair, Neil Parish MP, writes that 'it was the Conservative Government of 1956 who introduced the first ever Clean Air Act' and he calls on the Chancellor to 'demonstrate that it is the Conservatives who care about cleaning up our air – as was the case in 1956'.
Our Conservative Government claims it wants to leave the environment in a better condition for future generations. This is a laudable ambition.
But there is one environmental issue which the Government seems to take less seriously than others. Air quality. It is the invisible problem - and a silent killer. It is the greatest environmental threat to public health. From unborn babies to the elderly, we are all affected by poor air quality. In health impacts alone, toxic air costs us £20 billion a year.
The Conservative Party must do more to own the issue – and to solve it. After all, it was the Conservative Government of 1956 who introduced the first ever Clean Air Act. Healthy air is not only good for the environment, it has the potential to deliver huge savings, as we work hard to get the country back into the black.
This year, a study by the University of Oxford and the University of Bath found that toxic fumes, from cars and vans alone, cost the UK £6 billion. So cleaner road transport is a good place to start. Whilst the Government’s Road to Zero strategy is travelling in the right direction, it is not nearly ambitious enough. Very little attention has been given to whether Ultra Low Emission Vehicles (ULEVs), such as electric cars, are affordable and sufficiently consumer friendly.
In next week’s Budget, the Chancellor has the opportunity to change this. He can demonstrate that it is the Conservatives who care about cleaning up our air – as was the case in 1956. It’s time the Conservative Party demonstrates that we are the party to provide practical, consumer friendly solutions to the urgent problem of poor air quality.
One vital way the Chancellor can support a step-change in consumer behaviour is to reduce taxes. For instance, a relatively small change to Company Car Tax (CCT) would visibly demonstrate the government’s determination to increase the number of electric vehicles on our roads and have a significant impact on consumer behaviour.
If you have a company car for private use, you pay CCT on top of your salary. Since 2015, zero-emitting cars have also been subject to this tax. In 2019/20, the rate will be 16%, before falling to 2% in 2020/21. This is counterproductive. It encourages those considering the purchase of an electric vehicle to wait.
With 5.7 million vehicles, the UK’s leasing and rental industry account for 15% of all vehicles on the UK’s roads. Bringing forward the planned reduction of CCT would spark an increase in the nationwide fleet of electric vehicles. And if we incentivise those companies with the cash to buy newer, cleaner fleets of vehicles today, we can quickly increase the market for second-hand electric cars to be purchased on the mass-market.
The Treasury must not be afraid to take bold action. In addition to incentives, the Chancellor should look at a ‘polluter pays’ tax, fining the worst polluting manufacturers. This would raise revenue for further research and development investment, as well as fund an independent watchdog to drive action on our air quality targets.
If we are to drastically increase the number of electric vehicles on our roads, this Conservative Government must work more closely with the vehicle industry, from car manufacturers through to the car rental and leasing sector. The patchwork policy should be replaced with streamlined legislation to encourage the uptake of electric vehicles.
Poor air quality continues to be a serious issue which has implications not just on our health, but on the health of our environment. We cannot afford to be asleep at the wheel. It’s time the Government put its money where its mouth is – and drive down air pollution. Fast.
Neil Parish is the Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton. He is the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee
The British Safety Council have responded to Neil Parish MP saying "pleased that air pollution is being taken seriously by the Government (The Chancellor must use Budget 2018 to tackle air quality which costs the UK £20 billion a year: Neil Parish MP), but we must remember that clean air is also an occupational issue". Read the full response here.