Department of Transport on a road to nowhere?

The Department of Transport makes itself busy avoiding having a plan and keeping Britain on a road to nowhere.
Picture Bryan Manley-Green

It’s always fascinating to see how government departments can make work for themselves rather than focussing on making changes that might benefit the country. Covid has created so many backlogs, not least with issuing HGV licences by the DVLA, that you might think every sinew of the Department of Transport’s work would go towards helping alleviate our chronic shortage of lorry drivers.

The Department of Transport is isolating England

As much as some of us would love to blame Brexit for everything, the HGV driver shortage surely can’t all be the fault of the Home Office and the loss of freedom of movement. Surely the Department of Transport should take some of the blame.

In a plot twist to bamboozle us all, Grant Shapps and his Department of Transport have indeed decided to make their mark. Not by improving the backlog at the DVLA to help alleviate some of the problems caused by the shortage of HGV drivers. No, that would be too sensible. He didn’t even want to review the £27bn road building strategy in light of the pandemic. That might have needed brainpower.

For no apparent reason, he thought it would be a good idea to rebrand Highways England. Yes, Highways England which looks after the roads in England. For no apparent reason, it’s been renamed “National Highways”. The government’s own website claims; “The strategic road network plays a key role in levelling up by connecting England’s regions, ports and international trade corridors.”

The aforementioned “nation” turns out to be England. Not even England and Wales. How on earth this is a priority at the moment is beyond belief. Perhaps the government has already given up on a United Kingdom and our nation is indeed becoming just England?

UK or YUK?

Well no, not exactly. In yet another mixed up message from the government of England (and other bits on certain occasions), another really ‘important’ thing that the government has felt vital to change our registration plate country identifier. This month sees “GB” plates consigned to the history books, and they will become “UK” plates instead.

Amazingly, cars in Northern Ireland are unaffected by this change and will carry on using NI plates. Yes, that’s right. UK flags aren’t actually for the UK, but for GB (which does not include NI, as we are GB and NI), where a GB sticker has been a perfectly adequate solution given that they are used in GB and not the UK.

The only possible reason for this change is the government’s love of flag waving – it effectively banishes EU flags from our registration plates, instead replacing them with Union Flags.

In a desperate bid to ensure that our cars are still able to be driven in Europe, Shapps did at least get an agreement that GB plates with EU flags could still be driven in the EU. But now, it seems, in these times of severe shortages, we will all need a new UK registration plate (or at least a sticker) to be able to drive outside the UK. Or do I mean GB?

As if we don’t have enough to worry about when driving in the EU after Brexit. It now means we have to remove the GB sticker after 27 September.

The elephant in the room

Perhaps the government’s plan is to encourage us to use elephants for transport. After all, we could all fit on the huge elephant in the room at every ministerial meeting between the Chancellor and the transport secretary. On the day after the election,  Johnson might well have promised he had a plan for social care, but he certainly failed to mention what his plan was when electric cars took over from petrol and diesel ones leaving a huge hole in the nation’s finances.

Autoexpress thinks that this might be done by road pricing. This means that just like Google, the government would know exactly where you’ve travelled when using your car. Talk about a loss of freedom of movement.  

More From Central Bylines

Fuel Britannia? 

One good thing about making changes is that at least sometimes there are environmental benefits. I’m not sure whether hosting COP-26 later this year has encouraged the government to finally stop dragging its feet and rush through the adoption of E10 petrol, but thankfully, we can all actually breathe a sigh of relief as filling up the tank has become a little less polluting.

E10 has been commonplace in many countries after the standard was agreed some ten years ago by the EU Fuel Quality Directive, but only now, a few months before COP-26, has our government decided to introduce the new fuel. 

On the subject of reducing pollution, in the centre of Birmingham, we’re starting to get used to the Clean Air Zone, but that’s only for the benefit of the inner city. With the problem simply displaced, it leaves areas like the M5/M6 junction to continue to exceed EU environmental standards. 

Another important and life-saving change is just around the corner. Thankfully, the UK is following EU regulations and all new cars will soon be fitted with speed limiting technology, which will save countless lives. As Autotrader puts it “The UK is likely to adopt the new speed limiting rules, even after Brexit”. Like we had a choice.

It’s just another example of how the UK is now a rule taker, rather than a rule maker. If the EU says jump, that’s really what the UK, GB, or whatever this rather confused island might get called must now do. In their inimitable style, the Express hate the idea as it’s from the EU and have managed to find an expert who wants us to concentrate more on looking at the speedometer than the road.  

YUK, EW, or even worse?

So here we are, driving around in UK number plates that only exist in GB, following EU rules to which we have no say, and increasingly with a Union flag rather than an EU one. I do wonder how many of us will be tempted to put a Y in front of the UK.

Of course, if Scotland gain independence, they’ll have their own registration plate system as well. Given Northern Ireland will still have NI or even IRE plates, that would leave England and Wales to become EW.

This sounds about right and probably better and less vulgar than the option of Former United Kingdom!

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