Richard North, 22/12/2012  

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"Reforms" says the Daily Telegraph that could give private investors control over Britain's biggest roads will be included in the new policy agenda for the second half of the Coalition due next month.

Private "managers" of these roads would then be allowed to levy tolls on any new capacity they provide, such as new lanes or bypasses. Existing roads that are "improved beyond recognition" by private management could also be considered for charging.

And so the net closes. It started in 1926 when Churchill, as chancellor of the exchequer first raided the Road Fund - intended to maintain the road network - then making provision for one third of revenue from motor vehicle duty to be paid to the Exchequer.

From there, it was all downhill and now, despite motorists paying more than £30 billion a year in road tax and fuel duties, there is a huge backlog of repairs. Just to catch up with routine maintenance, an estimated £10 billion-plus is needed. This is simply not available after Mr Osborne has snaffled all the money.

And so, just to get the roads we have already paid for – and more – the Government is coming up with ever more ingenious schemes for extracting even more money from us.

Interestingly, schemes proposed are not set to employ GPS tracking systems – using perhaps the EU's Galileo satellite constellation. Instead, the Government is looking at numberplate recognition, using roadside cameras – similar to those used for the London congestion charge.

Needless to say, that brings in another layer of enforcement, with fines and more opportunities for bailiffs to ply their trade. Thus do the grasping tentacles of Government extend their malign grip.

And no amount of dressing up is going to disguise the fact that this is a king-sized rip-off. Allowing the private sector to fill its boots as well is never going to be an answer. A rip-off is always a rip-off, no matter who takes the money.


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