by David Taylor, Councillor for St Edward's, Havering
The Mayor of London is on a crusade against motorists. According to Sadiq Khan, this is necessary to combat the problem of air pollution. His latest scheme, to extend the Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) out to the whole of Greater London will, he claims, bring cleaner air to more Londoners. A no-brainer, surely?
It’s certainly generated controversy. The High Court will now hear a judicial review on the decision, with the possibility that it will tell the Mayor to go back to the drawing board, although this may only represent a stay of execution.
Why is it so controversial? Well, to enforce it, drivers with non-ULEZ compliant vehicles will be charged £12.50 a day.
Those who can’t afford to pay, or replace their vehicle, will have to stop driving. For those who can pay the charge, but who choose not to upgrade their car, they will be given a licence to keep driving their vehicle. The same vehicle that, according to the Mayor, is contributing to emissions responsible for killing thousands of Londoners!
Of course, we know ULEZ isn’t really about better air quality. Khan’s van tax is all about raising revenue. It’s a scheme designed to boost TfL’s coffers and to satisfy Khan’s unhealthy addiction to taxpayer’s cash. In fact, ULEZ is such a boost that TFL is predicting to deliver a surplus in 2023/24, to the tune of £79m. After years of teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.
Usually, it would be a good thing to see TfL sorting out its finances. But TfL is balancing the books on the backs of both small businesses and the poorest drivers. ULEZ is going to hit them hardest.
Now if you listened to some politicians, you’d be mistaken for thinking that Britain’s low-wage earners live life as medieval peasants, without access to any form of transport and simply working in local fields. “The poorest don’t own cars”, said a Romford Labour Councillor.
The data shows quite the opposite.
According to the ONS, the 10% lowest earners have a 35% car ownership rate. The second lowest 10% have a 50% ownership rate. Britain's poorest drive, in large numbers. What sets them apart from wealthier motorists is that their chances of owning a newer, ULEZ, compliant car is much lower.
It’s OK, Khan has declared. Because he is going to give those on benefits £2,000 to change their car over. It doesn’t matter that Autotrader reports there are not enough compliant cars on the market, Khan is convinced.
That’s despite the wide ranging impacts. Crucially, ULEZ isn’t just going to hurt those with non-compliant cars. It’s going to hit every London taxpayer in the pocket.
London’s boroughs operate huge fleets of vehicles. Refuse collection, parks services, passenger transport, even those little street sweepers that you see trundling along the road. They will all need to be ULEZ compliant. TFL has provided no exceptions for them.
These fleets are paid for by you and me, through council tax. Those taxes have already gone up this year, with the vast majority of councils in London hiking them by the maximum of 4.99 per cent. And the books were not balanced with ULEZ in mind.
In Havering Council, where I am elected, I asked the Leader if they had budgeted for the impact of ULEZ. They hadn’t. I asked, in a scrutiny meeting, if they knew the impact of ULEZ on carers and NHS staff. They don’t.
You see, ULEZ expansion to places like Havering wasn’t on the cards until very recently. So, councils hadn’t set aside vast sums of money to upgrade their fleets. This means they are going to need to borrow in order to become ULEZ compliant. That, or they will have to pay the fines.
The way councils budget for assets is different to the way you and I do. They attribute the ‘cost’ of each vehicle across its lifespan. So, a £10k car with a lifespan of 10 years will ‘cost’ the council £1k a year. This is known as ‘capitalisation’.
If the council suddenly has to ditch that vehicle after 5 years, then it has cost £2k a year. Even more worrying, it’ll sell for less than expected as ULEZ will mean it can’t be sold locally. On top of this, the council will now have to replace the vehicle with a more expensive new one, likely with a loan.
So, we will have a triple-whammy of financial hits to our already fragile council finances.
And who is going to cover this sudden gap in the budget?
You and I. Our taxes.
Whether you have a ULEZ compliant car, or not, you are going to be hit by this regressive attack on motorists. TFL will profit, of course, but the rest of us will lose out.