George Osborne is under mounting pressure to offer a fuel duty lifeline to people living in rural areas today after new figures showed they spend almost £1,000 more a year on transport costs than their urban counterparts.
As the Chancellor prepares to unveil his autumn spending statement in the Commons this afternoon, a new report by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed the huge premium paid on fuel and transport by people living in the countryside.
Mr Osborne is widely expected to freeze fuel duty once again in today’s ‘mini-budget’, but the ONS study – showing transport bills are on average £982 higher each year in the countryside – supported calls from local MPs for further action to be taken to help people in remote areas.
The Yorkshire Post is campaigning for a pilot scheme which offers a fuel discount to people living in the north of Scotland to be extended to the most rural parts of Yorkshire, as part of its Give us a Fair Deal campaign.
Anne McIntosh, the Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton and chair of Parliament’s environment select committee, said: “These figures confirm my worst fears. This is the issue my constituents are writing to me about more than any other.
“It is not surprising when you consider the lack of choice over public transport that people in rural areas face, and the huge distances involved.
“I will redouble my efforts to have the rural fuel pilot extended – I think there is a very good case to make, and I hope the Chancellor will look at this.”
Back in July, on the first anniversary of the Fair Deal campaign, Prime Minister David Cameron told the Yorkshire Post: “Work isunder way for rural Yorkshire to be made another pilot for the fuel discount, and I hope we will see plans progress swiftly.”
But the Treasury has since appeared luke warm on the idea.
Sir Barney White-Spunner, chairman of the Countryside Alliance, added his voice to calls for action yesterday, saying: “Countrysiders and their businesses are currently penalised for their rural location. A car is an essential, not a luxury, for them.”
The Chancellor is also expected to give his formal response to Lord Heseltine’s growth strategy today, with hopes high he will press ahead with the first stages of a massive devolution of powers and funding to the regions.
Last week Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said the Conservative peer had made a “compelling” case for devolution.
The statement will also include a fresh focus on infrastructure projects, with Mr Cameron announcing plans to cut spending further in Whitehall departments to pay for an extra £5bn in schools and other capital projects.
The plan includes £1bn to build 100 new academies and free schools over the next two years.
Mr Osborne is also expected to unveil a new version of the widely-discredited PFI model for funding big capital projects.
Labour said the announcements were an effective admission that cuts in infrastructure spending since the 2010 election have been “a catastrophic mistake”.
And writing in today’s Yorkshire Post, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves warns that previous infrastructure announcements made by the Chancellor have since “stalled”.