As I write this column, the Conservative Party Conference is in full swing.
But the Prime Minister doesn’t want to talk about the broken NHS, our crumbling schools, the housing crisis or the Climate Emergency: Mr Sunak wants to talk about 20mph speed limits, which he claims are part of the “war on motorists”. But here in Cornwall, the “Twenty’s Plenty” campaign is supported by all parties, including the Conservatives; and the only complaints I’ve heard so far are that the lower speed limits aren’t being rolled out fast enough!
Mr Sunak also boasts about cutting fuel duty to help drivers cope with the cost of living, but this is a blunt instrument: Should drivers in big cities with good public transport really be given the same amount of help as those living in rural areas without reliable buses or trains?
A far bigger problem for drivers in Cornwall is that supermarkets are abusing their power to charge excessive prices in areas where competition is weak. As of Sunday, October 1, a litre of petrol at Morrisons in Liskeard was 11p more expensive than at Tesco in Callington. Drivers in Bude are hit hardest, with Morrisons charging even more there than in Liskeard. If the government really wanted to help drivers, they would demand that each supermarket charges the same price for fuel across all their stores.
We are in the middle of a cost of living crisis, but the Conservatives on Cornwall Council are hurting, not helping. Way back in January, Cornwall Councillors unanimously voted to support charging double Council Tax on second homes, but the Government has now announced that it will not allow us to do so until after the General Election. This delay will cost Cornwall Council £25-million.
Coincidentally, Cornwall Council has announced that it has overspent its budget by £25-million this year, so now has to make cuts to balance the books: School bus provision is being withdrawn from 16 routes; and fares on public buses are set to increase by 25% from next month.
Car parking charges which have already been increased recently (at great cost to independent businesses in our town centres) are to be increased again! All of these cuts could have been avoided if the Conservative council had stuck to its budget.
And of course, we can’t talk about driving in South East Cornwall without mentioning the A38 and the Tamar Crossings. The government’s refusal to provide financial support means that the Tolls will soon be increased yet again, and the A38 won’t see any upgrades before 2030.
Last week the Liberal Democrat conference voted to keep the £2 cap on bus fares, freeze train fares and replace fuel duty with a system which is fairer on rural communities. The departure of this Conservative government is long overdue.