In its submissions to the Treasury ahead of the Comprehensive Spending Review and the Pre Budget Report the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has called upon transport to be placed at the heart of Government policy and no longer seen as peripheral behind health and education.The UK's global competitiveness is being damaged by its crumbling, underfunded transport network. The World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report ranks the UK 12th in the OECD for its transport whilst, shamefully, the UK is ranked 6th in the G7 group of countries in terms of transport investment, spending less than half the amount of competitors such as France and America between 2000 and 2004.

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Transport capacity has simply not increased in line with UK population rises and the statistics are damning. Average traffic speeds on motorways and trunk roads fell between 1996 and 2003 with traffic on all major roads increasing by 20% in the last decade. Despite this, Purchasing Power Parity adjusted diesel costs are the highest in the EU while the price of unleaded fuel is greater than all countries other than Portugal. Despite road users paying £45 billion to the Treasury every year, only £7 billion is reinvested in the road network.

 

It is not just on the roads that commuters and businesses are suffering. Whilst it must be acknowledged that investment in the railways has risen since 2000, this has not kept up with passenger numbers. Network Rail forecasts overall growth in passenger miles of around 30 per cent over the next 10 years and up to two thirds over the next 20 years. Sir Rod Eddington calculated the cost of severe overcrowding to the economy of employees being late to work at up to £1 billion - tinkering around the edges is no longer enough.

 

Other points raised by the BCC in its submissions include:

 

Regions

 

The BCC believes that there needs to be a shift away from central control and decision making towards a greater devolution of responsibility and powers to the regions for their own economic development.

 

Practically, this should mean that Regional Development Agencies are given a more focussed, defined role, with more clearly identified accountability. They must also focus on the strategic role in co-ordinating economic development that was originally envisaged for them rather than creping into other areas of service delivery. Within regions Cities are powerful economic drivers. It is imperative that local councils and RDA's work with local business to ensure a continued urban renaissance.

 

Tax

 

The BCC is continuing its call for a simpler and less burdensome tax system. Principally this would mean:

 

- The Small Companies Rate should not rise beyond 20% to the 22% laid out in the budget.

- Simplify National Insurance and Pay-As-You-Earn regime as a matter of urgency

- Clarify the VAT registration procedure

- Do not indirectly impair incentives for entrepreneurs if private equity is going to be tackled

- If a Supplementary Business Rate is to be introduced then businesses must have a vote.

 

David Frost, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, said:

 

"Transport has been underfunded in the UK for decades and our global competitiveness is being threatened. It has not been a priority for the Government, with health and education at the receiving end of large amounts of money. The Government needs to take Transport seriously at the highest levels and fund the expansion and improvement that is so desperately needed.

 

"It is also crucial that the Government recognises regions need to be strengthened to improve their economic performance. Current policy fails to effectively link up different regions leading to increasing economic disparity between different areas of the country. If the UK is going to compete globally then we must have strong regions that drive economic growth."