We have been gazing into our crystal ball (actually a cheap plastic beer container following England’s depressing performance against Algeria) to divine what the year’s second budget will mean for the transport sector.
Transport offers plenty of potential to raise revenues and cut costs and the Chancellor is likely to grab the opportunity better than Robert Green did against the USA.
First the revenues – increases in fuel excise duty and vehicle excise duty are as certain as a high ball into Crouch in a last desperate attempt to clinch a result in an England opening group game. Whilst they will be greeted with as much enthusiasm as a stadium fall of vuvuzelas, just like them they will be grudgingly accepted as part of the local scene which we will just have to put up with in this new age of austerity. As a sweetener we are likely to see further concessions for lower emission vehicles. The Chancellor is also likely to signal the introduction of road user charging for HGVs while ruling out general road user charging or extensions of congestion charging.
Air passenger duty is currently charged on a per-head basis but that is expected to change to a levy on a per-plane basis. This will be to the advantage of airlines that achieve higher load factors (aka as Ryanair and Easyjet) and to the detriment of some of the smaller regional airlines, expect special pleading for services to the Scottish Islands. However, addressing the anomaly whereby private jets are exempt from paying the levy is as likely as Emile Heskey scoring for England. The unknown is whether air freight flights will also retain their exemption.
The tax exemptions for company car use and workplace parking which are available through salary sacrifice are easy wins for the Chancellor but I fear he will fail to notice them just as Stephane Lannoy missed Fabiano’s hand ball for Brazil’s second goal against the Ivory Coast.
When it comes to cuts these have already been outlined to some extent with most transport schemes that are not fully committed following the example of most free kicks at the world cup, and disappearing way over the bar out into the crowd never to be seen again. Other cuts may include a reduction in the number of people who are eligible to free bus fares, expect to see them being phased out to the younger senior citizens.
And what of the budget surprises, the unknown unknowns, also called North Korea. The sell off High Speed 1 is a known but what odds on the privatisation of Network Rail, the invitation to the private sector to bring forward proposals for private financed toll roads and a requirement for local authority owned airports to be sold off. Probably as good as those for England to win the world cup.