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Party manifestos lack joined-up approach on transport and EVs, warn fleet associations

The newly-elected Government must bring a more co-ordinated and fleet-focused approach to plug-in vehicle adoption to help truly move the UK car parc to one where electric vehicles are the norm.

The BVRLA, ACFO and ICFM are all calling for a long-term commitment to the plug-in grants

The call comes from ACFO which, along with the ICFM and BVRLA, is urging for action in various areas following the publication of all three main political parties’ manifestos.

The ‘date game’ on the diesel and petrol ban

While the manifestos include some quite radical approaches to greening transport (see round-up here), targets vary – including for the date when “conventional” petrol- or diesel-engined car sales will end.

The Conservatives have said they’ll consult on the current ‘ambition’ “while minimising the impact on drivers and businesses”. However, Labour and the Liberal Democrats have gone all-out and said they will end petrol and diesel car sales by 2030.

Meanwhile, plans revealed at the Labour Party Conference earlier this autumn saw Labour commit to making the entire government car fleet electric by 2025; significantly advancing the Conservatives’ aim for 25% of the government fleet to be electric by 2022.

And a Labour government would urge all business car fleets to go 100% electric by 2025, backed by incentives, including a two-year removal of the £320 VED surcharge for EVs costing above £40,000.

However, Caroline Sandall, chairman at ACFO, has warned that politicians are playing a ‘date game’ and added that while climate change and air quality are major international concerns, simply advocating a ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars and vans is far too simplistic.

She added: “Simply proposing to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars and vans earlier and earlier, or in Labour’s case somehow ‘force’ fleets to go 100% electric by 2025 – just one replacement cycle from now for some operators – is not viable from a business perspective.

“Fleets are, in the main, in the vanguard of introducing plug-in vehicles and taking action to reduce their carbon footprint, but politicians must make it much easier to switch, and switch quickly.”

Action needed on charge point anxiety

ACFO has also warned that the newly elected Government needs to take control and solve electric vehicle charge point anxiety, which it says is replacing range anxiety as the big issue for drivers.

The various manifestos do include plans for action on charging; the Conservatives have said there’ll be a £1bn investment in completing a fast-charging network to ensure that everyone is within 30 miles of a rapid electric vehicle charging station while this autumn’s Labour Party Conference saw Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long Bailey say the party would invest £3.6bn into a “mammoth expansion of the UK’s electric vehicle charging networks”.

And the Lib Dems’ manifesto speaks of plans to increase the rate of installation of charging points, including residential on-street points and ultra-fast chargers at service stations.

But further action is needed, according to ACFO, as it points to the confusion around the speed at which a vehicle’s battery will be recharged; different vehicles requiring different connectors to enable charging to take place; and no standard payment system across all charge point providers. ICFM chairman Paul Hollick also warns that a single vehicle charging and payment system is needed, not the confusing multitude there is currently.

And ACFO also says the new Government should work with National Grid and the electricity distribution network companies to provide confidence that the power supply – and the infrastructure – required to support the charge to plug-in vehicles is available.

Sandall continued: “There also needs to be governmental support for ‘local’ clinics nationwide to dispense help and advice to myth-bust apparent opposition to the widespread adoption of plug-in vehicles. The technology works and plug-in vehicles offer a viable solution for many drivers and fleets – but not all – and  it cannot just be motor manufacturers, supply chain organisations such as contract hire and leasing companies and industry organisations like ACFO that dispense help and advice.”

Plug-in grant support

The major fleet associations are also urging the new Government to support plug-in vehicle take-up through continued grant availability.

The BVRLA has already warned in its 2019 Manifesto that plug-in vehicle grants should be extended for the long-term, as concerns mount over a lack of commitment to their future. There are currently no concrete plans to continue these grants beyond next year – an announcement was expected in the Spending Review but was conspicuous by its absence while hopes for clarity in the Budget were thwarted when Parliament shut for the five-week general election campaign.

ACFO also says the new Government must make a commitment that the Plug-In Car and Van Grants will remain in place for years to provide confidence to fleets that they are not a ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ funding solution.

Clean Air Zones/Ultra-Low Emission Zones

Both ACFO and ICFM also make it clear that a joined-up approach on Clean Air Zones/ Ultra-Low Emission Zones is needed in general.

ACFO’s Sandall says: “Many towns and cities are ploughing ahead with the introduction of Clean Air Zones and Low Emission Zones, but the individual local authority approach is disjointed and confusing. Furthermore, while the Euro 6 diesel emission standard appears to be the accepted criteria for Clean Air Zone entry, Bristol City Council’s proposal to ban all diesel vehicles from April 2021 is wrong. Co-ordination is required on standards amid concerns that other councils could follow suit – blanket bans are not the answer without support to make it easier for fleets to switch to switch to ultra-low emission vehicles and ensuring there are viable substitutes to car and van use.

“The Liberal Democrats have promised in their manifesto to extend ultra-low emission zones, similar to that in London, to 10 more towns. But which towns and why? Co-ordination and not randomness is required.”

ICFM’s Paul Hollick also said the new Government should bring a “co-ordinated approach to low emission zone introduction at a local level and not abdicate implementation of a national framework to councils”.

Company car tax

While the changes announced last summer to company car tax from 2020/21 still require progression to a Finance Bill – after the Autumn Budget was shelved for the election campaigns – both ACFO and the ICFM have urged the new Government to advance these further.

However, little mention is made of company car tax plans in the manifestos, with just the Lib Dems having said they want to accelerate the rapid take-up of electric vehicles by reforming vehicle taxation.

In response, ACFO has called for the next Chancellor of the Exchequer to announce company car Benefit-in-Kind tax rates for 2023/24 and 2024/25 in a winter Budget to enable long-term fleet manager and company car driver planning.

Sandall added: “The future of motoring taxation as a whole needs to be discussed. Being based, as it is now on vehicle carbon dioxide emissions – company car Benefit-in-Kind tax, Vehicle Excise Duty and capital allowances – means that it is has no future in a zero-emission electric vehicle world.”

And Hollick also said more certainty is needed: “What the newly elected Government should immediately do is to declare for 100% electric vehicles, at the very least, a five-year 0% Benefit-in-Kind tax rate and, over a similar period of time, a £0 Vehicle Excise Duty rate for cars with CO2 emissions up to and including 50g/km; and bring capital allowances for contract hire and leasing companies on plug-in vehicles into line with those for outright purchase fleets,” he outlined.

Hollick added: “That would at least provide a five-year window of taxation certainty to enable fleet decision-makers and drivers to plan without fear of any policy short-termism.”

ICFM also warned that the new Government should take action to stop the migration of employees out of company cars, as identified by HMRC data going back over many years and due to a short-sighted Benefit-in-kind tax strategy

Hollick explained: “Company cars are the ‘greenest’ on the road and evidence suggests that when opting out of the ‘benefit’ employees fund a car that has higher CO2 emissions than the company-provided vehicle they gave up. A future Government must reverse that trend.”

Transport commitments

Finally, ACFO has warned of manifesto commitments that “appear to be randomly thrown in to the ‘if elected we will do this pot’” but do not seem realistic.

With response to the Conservative Party promise to launch the ‘biggest-ever’ pothole-filling programme to improve roads, Sandall said: “The party has been in power for almost a decade and the pothole plague has apparently worsened so why will a newly elected ‘blue’ Government do any better?”

And responding to the Labour Party’s commitment to “review all tolled crossings”, Sandall continued: “Whether that happens remains to be seen, but ACFO continues its long-time call for a single centralised database to hold vehicle data for all road charging schemes, including the Dartford Crossing as well as existing London Congestion Charge, Severn River Crossing and M6 Toll and any future schemes.

“ACFO would like to see one centralised database that fleet managers need to keep up to date with vehicle data and in credit with an account debited by the operator of each charging scheme to ease the administration burden.”

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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for nearly 20 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day. Natalie edits all the Fleet World websites and newsletters, and loves to hear about any latest industry news.