Monday, January 17, 2011

Fuel Prices

It's rather ironic that the one thing that the Coalition doesn't control - oil prices - seems to be doing it the most damage in terms of tabloid headlines at the moment.

They've been doing a lot of flip-flopping on whether or not to introduce a 'Fuel Price Stabilizer'. The latest salvo is Danny Alexander saying the Treasury would not sacrifice income to help out motorists. However he did mention a pilot scheme to offer discounted fuel in rural areas.

It is true that there are worse-off people in rural areas who depend upon their car. However, there are also plenty of better-off people in rural areas who can afford to pay more for fuel. I also know of someone who lives in a nice 4-bedroom house in Cumbria and commutes the 100-mile round trip to Lancaster. There are people who own second homes in the back-of-beyond and drive there from London every weekend in their 4x4s. So you can see that for every deserving, hard-up family where there's a choice between Christmas presents for the kids and filling up the car, there's a good few less needy people for whom discounted fuel would subsidize their carbon-intensive lifestyle, and those that choose to drive the most polluting vehicles would benefit the most.

It could also be argued that while the 'country mouse' may suffer disproportionately from rising fuel prices, the 'town mouse' suffers more expensive housing, and enjoys a lower quality of life and life expectancy.

If benefiting the poor is the objective, discounted fuel could be a very badly-targeted measure, likely to benefit the least deserving the most. It's also a tactic that has an ongoing cost to the Treasury.

Politicians show very little imagination on the fuel price issue. They seem to regard it as a zero-sum game, which it isn't. People can, and do, reduce their fuel usage in many different ways.  Maybe the Coalition should think about how they could help people reduce their fuel usage rather than focusing on fuel prices. They could subsidize energy-saving tyres. They could improve public transport and other alternatives to the car. They could encourage measures such as  'eco-driving', giving people the driving skills to reduce their fuel consumption. Ride-sharing would encourage people in the same community making the same journey to share a car, which would promote community cohesion. They could also encourage people to do more locally, promoting local businesses.

1 comment:

  1. Nick Clegg sent my mum a 'personal' letter the day before the general election promising to minimise the impact (reduce?) fuel duty for people like her (living in a marginal Ceridigion constituency).

    The fact that she was 90, doesn't drive and the local Tescos sell petrol at more or less the same price as London makes this a curious offer.

    I can understand issues in those old Liberal constituencies in the Scottish Isles where fuel is more expensive for structural reasons - but for the average Ceridigion motorist the wide open roads means you get far more miles to the gallon than most (urban) motorists. That makes it cheaper and now to be even cheaper?

    It does seem to generate extra traffic and larger cars. Ceridigion rivals Chelsea in the (non-agricultural) tractor market, Whereas the bus fares are astronomical. And no sane cyclist would attempt the A487 for which TINA.

    It makes one weep that the LibDems were once thought of as the thinking person's Green Party.