Tom Richmond: Osborne must steer a course towards easing petrol burden

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IS the Government on the side of growth – or does it want to send Britain down the road to economic oblivion?

It is a question that George Osborne will have to answer in this month’s Budget with regard to fuel duty.

The Chancellor may not have to pay to fill up his Ministerial limo – but record petrol and diesel charges are pricing ordinary taxpayers off the road.

Take Tuesday, a glorious early spring day. My choice was a simple one – chores at home or a saunter out into North Yorkshire.

In normal times, the latter would always win. But not now with diesel the most expensive in the EU – and petrol not far behind.

I’m not alone – I most have spoken to a dozen acquaintances this week who have faced a similar dilemma because they can no longer justify using their savings to subsidise weekly bills.

Some have cancelled trips, denying the Treasury fuel revenue, while others will forgo holidays because they have no option other than to drive significant distances to school or work. For many, that is now the everyday reality.

And while Osborne says he cannot afford any tax cuts in the Budget, and an increasing likelihood of the anti-business 50p rate remaining for high-earners, I say that he cannot afford to ignore the public’s plight any longer – and be far more straightforward with the public over fuel duty.

A consequence of last year’s welcome 1p reduction is the delaying of a 3p increase that will now be introduced in August when the country is either away or distracted by the Olympics. That is not being totally straight with the people, in my book.

Given a 5p duty cut costing £1bn could be offset by increased economic confidence, I urge Osborne to be bold – he needs to be radical to inject some life back into the country.

He should announce that it is his prerogative to review duty in every Budget and Autumn Statements – increases will not be deferred for reasons of political convenience – and that, for non-car users, he intends to work with public transport providers to freeze fares next year.

In short, he’ll be sending Britain on a journey towards lower taxes. What’s to stop him?

SNP leader Alex Salmond’s pro-Scottish reputation has taken a major dent. Not one ounce of UK steel, according to MP Frank Roy, is being used to build the new Forth road bridge north of Edinburgh.

“Is it not shameful that 29,000 of tonnes of steel can be shipped 12,500 miles from Shanghai but not 33 miles from Lanarkshire?” said Roy.

I agree – but, for once, the coalition is not to blame. According to Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, this is a matter “devolved to the Scottish Government, and it is for them to answer his very difficult question”.

HIS Old Labour politics may not be appreciated by those rural residents fighting wind farm proposals across Yorkshire, but they appear to have unlikely ally in the form of veteran MP Dennis Skinner.

According to the Bolsover MP, there is a restriction on the proximity of turbines to homes in Scotland – a point confirmed by Sir George Young, the Leader of the Commons, who confirmed such a rule had been resisted in England.

Young’s explanation was not enough to satisfy Skinner who cut to the chase with this observation: “If wind farms are so perfect, why are there none in the backyards of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Eric Pickles)? As a bonus, why are there not half a dozen at Highgrove?”

HERE’S a reason why the Government’s work experience programme has been a shambles – the policy transcends three Whitehall departments (education, business plus work and pensions).

It is yet another example of Ministers over-complicating sound policies – and why David Blunkett was on the right lines when he had charge of both employment and education during Tony Blair’s right term.

I SEE that schoolchildren will be encouraged to visit local historical sites so they can be inspired by England’s “rich island history” in a new Government initiative.

The downside is the £2.7m grant from the Department for Education to English heritage will not go very far when divided between every school in the country.

And this is before schools get on to the costs, practicalities and risk assessments. I’m afraid it’s a well-intended idea that will very quickly become just that – history.