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INTERVIEW: A blueprint for Britain

Date: 04 December 2007

Villiers: wants a "more efficient" tax system

Theresa Villiers, the Conservatives shadow secretary of state for transport, speaks to BusinessCar about what action the blue corner of Westminster would take on the environment, congestion and tax if it came to power

Where do the Conservatives stand on.

.Road charging

We oppose the Government's plans for a national road pricing scheme. Not only would it give rise to privacy concerns that would be very hard to deal with but it would be wholly impractical to track every car on every road, 24 hours a day. It would involve one of the largest IT project the world has ever known. I have no confidence that this Government could procure and project-manage such a scheme without the threat of disastrous cost over-runs. And I do not believe that the DVLA has a reliable enough data to make such a system workable. However, I do accept that road tolling and pricing has the potential to play a useful part in generating new capacity on our road network. We would also permit local charging schemes to go ahead but only if there was clear consent from the local community. If local schemes do go ahead it is also vital to ensure that viable alternative transport alternatives are available, including improved public transport. Another priority would be to ensure that there is a sensible degree of consistency and interoperability between local projects in different areas. We do not want drivers left with the hassle and cost of umpteen different in-car units to pay charges in different areas.

...Motoring and the environment

The car has brought both personal freedom and economic improvement to this country. Conservatives recognise that for many people, a car is vital for their business. The question is how do we get the right balance between the economic importance of business driving and the need to tackle climate change? It would be both wrong and counter-productive to try to hector people out of their cars or tax them off the road. Rather than finger-pointing, Conservatives want to find ways to help and encourage people to make greener transport choices to try to reduce carbon emissions from road transport. For example, we are very supportive of the efforts being made by the motoring industry in reducing average emissions per vehicle and we will be considering the best ways to give people incentives opt for greener cars and greener fuels. Our aim is to bring down average emissions for new cars to 100g/km by 2022.

...Motoring taxation

Of course I am well aware of the concern felt by so many motorists about the level of taxes on driving. I think this resentment is fuelled by the approach taken to roads by the Government. Motorists would feel less unhappy at the level of tax they pay if they could see it yielding real improvements to our road network. Under this Government, road schemes have been announced, re-announced and cancelled time and again. Far too many areas around the country have been left waiting a decade by Gordon Brown for much-needed bypasses and junction improvements. Far too much money has been wasted by this Government: pointless reorganisations in the NHS, unwanted unelected regional assemblies, unwanted regionalisation of police forces; ID cards; and asset recovery agencies that do not collect any assets are just a few examples that spring to mind. I am afraid I cannot give your readers glib promises on the level of motoring taxes under a Conservative government but I can promise that we will make the most stringent efforts to make sure taxpayers' money is spent wisely. And we will grow public spending, but by less than the overall growth rate in the economy. Over time, that should give us the headroom for tax reductions carried out in a fiscally prudent way, over the longer term and only when the country can afford them.

...The company car as business transport

To help the business traveller stuck in endless jams, we are looking at a range of ways to get traffic flowing again. We are very concerned that the Government has abandoned its targets for tackling the road congestion that blights our quality of life and damages our competitiveness in this country. As well as continuing to make much needed improvements to our road system to tackle the worst bottlenecks which cause such headaches for so many drivers, we will look at ideas for more efficient use of our roads such as active traffic management, dedicated extra road space for those turning right, deactivating bus priority measures for off-peak periods, re-phasing traffic lights to give greater priority to main roads and scrapping unnecessary traffic lights.

In view of environmental concerns, a government led by David Cameron would also seek to give business people attractive alternatives to the car. This would mean improving public transport including tackling the overcrowding crisis on our rail network. However, it should also involve so-called 'smarter choices' to try to cut the hours people feel they need to spend behind the wheel to make their business a success; such as workplace travel plans, improving teleconferencing and encouraging home and flexible working.

...What car do you own/drive/have access to?

I drive a soft-top Mini Cooper with an LPG tank, having just switched from a Land Rover Defender that I am in the process of selling.