National Alliance Against Tolls - Letter sent to Fife Councillors on 7 Feb 2006
Letter sent to Fife Councillors on 7 Feb 2006
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This is an open letter to you and all the other members of Fife Council.
A month ago we contacted you for your support for the removal of the tolls. We said that though it was the Council's long standing policy that the tolls should be removed, in practice the current Council seems to have done nothing to achieve this. As you know the tolls are at last due to end on the 31st March. But the fear is that the Labour / Lib Dem Executive will decide to extend the tolls. Indeed FETA, the bridge board, at it's meeting at the end of November asked the Executive to do this. At the same time FETA said that it wanted to bring in a form of road charging with tolls of up to £4. This decision to extend, and later increase the tolls was voted for by 3 of the FETA Labour councillors and 2 of the FETA Lib Dem councillors, and then passed on the casting vote of the FETA Labour chairman.
The 4 Fife members of FETA voted against the £4 tolls, but did not vote against the next item which dealt with the introduction of electronic tolling. Neither of course did Fife Council do anything to oppose the last toll increase on the 1st May last year. They have also not stopped the spending of £5 million on new toll equipment for tolls that are due to end! Nor have they stopped the use of tolls to pay for what should be a trunk road that isn't even in Fife - the A8000 / M9 spur.
Despite this we did get some support either to the email or an earlier letter from George Campbell.
In all 9 Labour, 3 SNP, 2 Independent and 1 Lib Dem councillor said that they supported the removal of the tolls. Though we were pleased to get this support, the lack of support from other councillors was disappointing. 63 councillors either did not respond or did not support the removal of the tolls.
In particular we were disappointed that the Leader of the Council in her reply only indicated that the Council was concerned about the road user charging scheme. There was no answer to our request to support the removal of the tolls and this implies that the Council is happy for Fifers to pay tolls forever, and that the Council does not want the bridge treated as a trunk road.
Since our contact with you, the by-election has given us another chance to see where the parties stand.
As you know, though there are many other important issues, it is the question of tolls that seem to have dominated the by-election. Unfortunately much of what has been printed, obscures the central fact that the tolls are due to end on the 31st March unless the Labour / Lib Dem Executive make an Order to extend them. Though perhaps we can see why none of the main parties want Fifers to be reminded of this!
When we first contacted Catherine Stihler her office said "Catherine is opposed to the Bridge tolls and this is very much part of her campaign". We were naturally pleased and asked for details. We were then told that this was a mistake and that Catherine would contact us "with her thoughts". Catherine's thoughts on this are still a secret from us and the rest of the public. The Prime Minister in waiting has however been very forthcoming about the tolls. Gordon's statements seem to boil down to that he is opposed to £4 tolls (we don't know what he thinks about £3.99 tolls) and that he is going to build a new bridge. It appears however that the Executive are not committing themselves to any cap on tolls, and on Monday (6th Feb), Alistair Darling said that there would be not a penny from Westminster towards the cost of any new bridge.
We don't know what is most puzzling - Catherine's silence, the way Gordon is contradicted or the fact that Gordon himself has changed his tune. As you will know, when he was a member of Old Labour, Gordon was very strongly opposed to the bridge tolls - he had a Private Members bill to abolish them, and spoke against them at the 1985 Toll Increase Inquiry. His words included:- "Charging of tolls is totally indefensible on the grounds of logic, equity and economic rationality ... they are excessive and unreasonable ... why are the benefits of the Forth Road Bridge any more exceptional than those of the Kessock or Ballachulish Bridges, neither of which had tolls?". Has Gordon abandoned his opposition to tolls, because he can see that most Fife councillors do not seem to put up even a token opposition to keeping them?
Lib Dems are generally in favour of tolls. Except maybe when it affects their own constituents. When Willie Rennie's candidature was, announced, it was said that he opposed the proposals for £4 bridge tolls. We asked him what size toll increase he would support. We eventually got a reply that again said that he opposed £4, but did not say what size increase he would accept. Is he a supporter of psychological pricing and another £3.99er?
Douglas Chapman for the SNP, has not replied to our questions, but is reported to have said that "£1 is enough". The SNP Transport spokesman, has answered some of our questions and at one stage we were hopeful that the SNP were going to support removal of tolls. But he has since said that though the SNP are opposed to toll increases and can see a case against the tolls, they don't want "more public cash to be ladled out to all and sundry".
Over the last week there have been various carpetbaggers from London tramping the streets of Dunfermline. It is not surprising that they seem to know little of the facts about the tolls.
What is surprising is that Fife Council (with some honourable exceptions) should acquiesce in the imposition on Fifers of a Toll Tax that only applies in one other place; and if the rumours are true about the Erskine bridge, will soon only affect Fife. Perhaps the leaders of the various party groups on the Council, could explain this mystery to the people?
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