Tom Richmond: Broken petrol pledge fuels drivers' anger

IF the soaring cost of fuel becomes the coalition's "poll tax", then David Cameron will only have himself to blame.

He championed the issue of a fuel duty escalator when in opposition – and then became complacent when he swapped his personal car for his gas-guzzling Prime Ministerial chauffeur-driven limo (funded by the taxpaper).

People will not forget this when they fill up at the pumps and notice how a litre of petrol or diesel is now 15p more expensive than before the Government came to power.

They will also struggle to forgive this Government's "spin" operation, and how Ministers portrayed hints of a concession for rural areas in the forthcoming Budget as a new measure. This PR attempt came straight from New Labour's handbook.

The idea, according to Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander, is that the Government will seek the European Commission's permission to introduce a pilot scheme to give a discount on fuel duty of up to 5p per litre on petrol and diesel in the Inner and Outer Hebrides, the Northern Isles, and the Isles of Scilly amid fears motorists could be paying up to 140p a litre.

Why is this not new? Alexander, the Lib Dem man at the Treasury, made exactly the same promise to his party's Scottish conference last autumn in order to ameliorate their concerns about the first round of the coalition's cuts.

And why was last autumn's speech particularly memorable? Alexander, who was relatively new to his new post, was particularly looking to shore up the support of Lib Dem voters in their South West and Scottish heartlands – and he, after all, is MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey.

His opportunism did nothing, for example, to help motorists in Yorkshire's more remote communities who are labouring just as much as their rural brethren in areas of the country where the Lib Dems are strongly represented.

Does Yorkshire not matter, Mr Cameron or Mr Alexander? For, if as looks likely, the interests of this region's motorists are now on the Government's priority list, this policy fiasco will be just another reminder, following the broken promises on tuition fees and top-down reorganisatons of the NHS, that any guarantees made prior to an election are worthless.

I NOTE Leeds City Council chief executive Tom Riordan is to take a five per cent pay cut, bringing his salary down to a mere 176,000. His move, whatever the motivation, will not defuse the row about town hall salaries when the Government was seeking local autuhority leaders to volunteer for a 10 per cent reduction.

What is necessary, I believe, is that the basic salary for a council chief executive is limited to 100,000. However, they would be eligible for up to 50,0000 in performance-related bonuses if their authority achieved certain targets – such as improved attainment levels for schools, the bins being emptied on time and road potholes being filled in properly.

At the moment, there appears to be very little correlation between the amounts claimed by council chiefs – and the service delivered by their authority. But there could be if the prevailing culture became one of "reward for success".

WHEN Northern Rail announced that cancelled trains were, in fact, "on time" a year ago on the Ilkley to Leeds line, its bosses promised to improve communication.

When Northern Rail repeated this mistake last month, at the height of the snow chaos, the company's response was a familiar one – lessons will be learned.

When Northern Rail repeated this mistake last week, the old excuse about lessons was trotted out. And, when tannoy announcements could not over-ride the inaccurate information screens at Menston Station the other morning, much to a colleage's consternation, the firm's chief operating officer, Steve Butcher, said: "The fault with the PA system is due to be fixed within the next three weeks."

Three weeks? Why that long? No wonder passengers are fed up at the prospect of 10 per cent fare increases because Northern Rail, Metro and the Government have failed to acquire sufficient new carriages to counter the chronic overcrowding on the region's railways.

Perhaps the railways is another area where salaries should be results-driven – starting with a firm's ability, or otherwise, to keep passengers informed of delays.

BRADFORD MP David Ward made an eloquent case the other day for the Education Maintenance Allowance to be retained. Of the 9,000 young claimants in the Lib Dem MP's city, 90 per cent receive the top rate.

"This means that they come from families that earn less than 21,000. We have already decided that anyone who earns less than that should not pay a penny off the student loan as a graduate, and that is not for households, but for individuals," says Ward.

"So why are we not really looking at the consequences of the decision we are making on EMA? We need a thorough review."

He's right – and it is important that this review takes place before the coalition condemns even more young people to the dole queue because of its policy obstinance and short-sightedness.

Rather than viewing youngsters looking to futher their studies as commodities, Ministers should view them as investments. For, if they obtain the qualifcations to fulfil their career aspirations, their future tax contribution will more than eclipse their EMA pay-out.

The challenge, therefore, is to get the money to those pupils most in need.

A WORD of warning about the overtures that Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, is making to the Lib Dems.

He was one of Labour's post-election negotiating team whose antipathy towards Nick Clegg's party made it impossible for a Centre-Left alliance to be formed.

Is this a recognition that Labour cannot return to power without the support of the Lib Dems?