Wednesday, 23 September 2015
Road Haulage Industry
6. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the efforts his Department is making to address the challenges being faced by the road haulage industry here, particularly those related to commercial vehicle road tax and the introduction of the lorry road user levy in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31804/15]
My question to the Minister relates to the road haulage system situation. The road haulage industry in Ireland is in a perilous situation. Road tax for the road haulage industry is five times more expensive here than it is in Northern Ireland and the introduction of the new levy of €10 per day in Northern Ireland and the UK has had a terrible impact. The Minister's Department is well aware of this fact. The levy has been introduced for more than a year yet nothing has been done to help this industry. As a result, hauliers and businesspeople are transferring their operations to the UK and Northern Ireland, and who would blame them? They are at the pin of their collars trying to survive, maintain jobs and provide a high-quality service. They cannot do this when we have an unfair and unlevel playing field.
I thank Deputy McGrath. The road haulage industry suffered during the recession, particularly due to the downturn in the construction sector. The Government recognised the challenges facing the sector and announced the fuel duty rebate for hauliers in 2012, which could result in savings of up to €70 million per annum for the haulage sector. The number of road haulage vehicles in Ireland has been steadily increasing since 2013 and now stands at 16,799. This is an increase of more than 2,000 vehicles since 2012. Continued economic recovery will see this figure continue to increase.
In recognition of the challenges facing the haulage sector, the Minister for Finance committed in November 2014 to reducing the motor tax rates for heavy goods vehicles, HGVs, of 12 tonnes or more in the approaching budget, with a tapering of the reduction for vehicles below a certain level. An interdepartmental group has carried out a review of the current commercial motor tax regime and consulted with hauliers and other stakeholders. The report is being submitted to me, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government for joint consideration. Once agreement is reached, the Minister for Finance will decide on the best way to respond to the needs described by Deputy McGrath.
The UK HGV road user levy was introduced in 2014. The Government lobbied actively against the application of the charge to Northern Ireland, in co-operation, I must say, with Stormont Ministers. Unfortunately, the UK Minister for Transport chose to give only very minor exemptions to Northern Ireland from the road user charge. My officials are monitoring the impact of the road user charge on cross-Border traffic.
We can have the interdepartmental reports and investigations and I welcome them, but it is blatantly obvious that there is not a level playing field. We will have to do something about road tax and we will have to go back more robustly to the Northern Ireland authorities and Westminster to deal with this new levy. There is a channel, or a passage, from Donegal and there could be an exemption for it. Other countries have been able to get exemptions. A Prime Minister of a particular country this morning stated that he was not going to implement a European decision made yesterday. Why do we have to be the good boys and implement everything?
The road haulage industry is not viable for hauliers. By way of comparison, road tax costs €3,500 on average for a vehicle per year. It is only £640 sterling in Northern Ireland and England. That is not a level playing field. The Minister is saying the number of vehicles has increased. I welcome that fact but we must recognise the effort, employment and business initiatives of private hauliers and the sheer skill they have put into developing their businesses. This levy undermines them totally and the Minister knows it. Unless the report is finalised and taken seriously, it will be no good resting on a shelf. We need action here and we need action on the road tax as well.
I am absolutely aware of the needs of the road haulage sector. There are a few groups and sectors that I have met more regularly since I came into office because I believe, and I have said this to them, the work they do provides the backbone to how much our economy develops.
Indeed, Deputy, we have supported them. This is why we have brought in the fuel rebate and why I have made changes elsewhere in the implementation of law to look to recognise their needs. I assure the Deputy that a very complicated piece of work on the taxation of their sector is now approaching finalisation. The sector and its representatives have been actively involved in that work through their presence on a stakeholder group, and that is one report I am confident will not be gathering dust.
I welcome that statement. It is positive and I hope to see it in the budget in the coming weeks. I am sure road hauliers will be celebrating. They will probably do a drive-through just to celebrate such good news but seeing is believing and actions speak louder than words. I will hold the Minister to his statement and I am sure the hauliers will as well. This issue has to be dealt with as it is a vital industry, as acknowledged by the Minister. It provides vital employment and is vital for our exports as well.
I have given a commitment to the sector, to which I have referred publicly and which I am happy to reaffirm. Due to changes which the United Kingdom has made in how it taxes that sector - it has a right to tax how it wants-----
The UK made a change to how it wants to tax this sector. The Minister for Finance has said that, dependent on the money available to us, over time, we will look to address the sector to try to help its efforts to be more competitive. The sector has been involved in work that we have done in that area. While no decisions have yet been made in the budget, that work is under way. I am hopeful we will be able to respond to the challenges which the sector is facing. I welcome, as I think does the Deputy, the fact the sector now has almost 2,000 more vehicles on the road than it did in 2013. That is a tribute to the sector and a recognition of what is taking place in our economy.