Why rollout of electric vehicles needs speeding up – Sarah Olney

ELECTRIC vehicles are the future. The car companies can see it, the oil companies can see it and the public can see it.

Is the Government doing enough to encourage electric vehicles?
Is the Government doing enough to encourage electric vehicles?

Yet this Conservative government can’t. Just this month, the Prime Minister’s spokesperson for the COP26 climate change conference, Allegra Stratton, said she didn’t “fancy” buying one.

The Conservatives, despite pledging to end sales of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 (and hybrids by 2035), are not doing enough to encourage people to buy electric vehicles.

This year they cut the Plug-In Car Grant available for people to buy EVs and last year they built fewer charging points than they did the year before.

Sarah Olney MP is the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for transport.

What have the Government given us instead? Green number plates, to “raise awareness of the increasing number of cleaner vehicles on our roads” according to Transport Minister Rachel Maclean.

That’ll do the trick. It’s just another example of the Conservatives preferring empty gestures over practical action on the climate.

Speaking of practicality – who would buy a petrol or diesel car if they didn’t know where they could fill it up? Allegra Stratton said that she’d be fully on board with purchasing an electric car if it was possible to charge it within half an hour. Ms Stratton will be pleasantly surprised to learn that you can do just that.

“Rapid” chargers that will charge a car from 0 to 80 per cent in 30 minutes exist, but just 296 of these “rapid” chargers were built in the last three months and less than 20 per cent of all chargers are “rapid”. A lack of Government investment, and ambition, is to blame for that.

Is the Government doing enough to encourage electric vehicles?

And it is rural areas that are suffering the most. In the whole of Yorkshire there are 1,156 chargers (of which a paltry 341 are “rapid”), but the unequal availability between areas is stark. North Yorkshire only has 177 of those chargers, with the Selby Council area boasting just six chargers to share between its population of 90,620. Don’t all fight for one at once.

Of course, one advantage of electric vehicles is that you can charge them at home. But if people aren’t confident that they can charge them on the go, they simply won’t buy them for fear of being marooned miles away from their final destination, or indeed civilisation itself.

While the Government is cutting incentives and officials are putting them down, many councils are introducing “clean air zones” at the Government’s urging. These zones charge the most polluting cars to enter the city centre. Bath and Birmingham have joined London this year in introducing such charges, with Portsmouth still to come and many places considering similar schemes.

The Conservatives are introducing these new financial penalty schemes to combat air pollution, but at the same time are making it difficult for consumers to make the right choice and change to electric vehicles. Either which way, it stands to leave you out of pocket.

We only have to look at shining examples in other countries to see where doing the right thing is paying off. EVs make up about four per cent of vehicles on the road in the UK, whereas in Norway it’s nearly 20 per cent.

Norway slashed taxes on electric vehicles, including cutting VAT, and introduced incentives such as free parking and permission to use bus lanes, with the aim of all new cars sold to be electric by 2025. That’s what true ambition and desire for change looks like.

The UK Government must do more. Firstly, the most obvious thing to do is to stop talking down electric vehicles. Allegra Stratton’s comments were partly misconceptions that someone in her position has a responsibility not to peddle in the public eye, but also partly reflect perfectly valid concerns that the everyday man and woman have regarding EV viability.

The easiest thing the Government can do to alleviate these concerns is for them to show confidence in EVs, by changing all government vehicles to electric ones. If the PM arrived at engagements in an electric vehicle, it would help set an example.

The Liberal Democrats are also calling on them to look into cutting taxes on EVs, particularly VAT – and of course, actually build charging points. If we want to clean up our air and cut emissions then we need to start an electric vehicle revolution now. I fear the Government’s actions and words are threatening to pull the plug before it has even begun.

Sarah Olney MP is the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for transport.

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