Proposed Subsidy for Scrapping Cars

There have been numerous stories recently suggesting that the government is considering bringing in a scheme to subsidise the scrapping of old cars to encourage people to buy new ones. This is sometimes spun as a ‘green’ initiative because it would encourage people to drive more modern cars, and it is sometimes spun as a boost to the economy. Unfortunately the government isn’t clear which rationale it is going with – but it doesn’t matter because the case for either is weak.

I wrote to Kevin Barron about it:

Dear Kevin Barron,

I note with some alarm the growing call for the government to subsidise purchases of new cars by paying over and above the value of older cars traded in. I have heard rumours that this is being seriously considered after it led to an increase in demand for new cars in Germany.

I would like to know your views on this, end to encourage you to vote against such proposals should you get the chance.

This is not a green initiative, no matter how much the SMMT try to paint is as one – if you take into account the CO2 emissions in the manufacture of a car and offset it against the inevitable increase in fuel efficiency, the optimum age for a car turns out to be over 10 years old. The average age of a car in the UK is under 5 already. The simple comparison of MPG not only fails to take into account the CO2 released in manufacture, it also fails to take into account the fact that once it costs less per mile to drive (because you have a more efficient car) people tend to drive further. Even if you strip out the manufacture of the vehicle, the  cost of saving a tonne of CO2 by subsidising people to swap their car is about £2500. The cost of saving a tonne of CO2 by investing in geothermal energy? About £3.50.

In addition to not being a green initiative, it isn’t economically sound either.  As I understand it the law won’t allow the subsidy to be only applicable to cars assembled in the UK, so given that, and the fact that only 15% of cars bought in this country are made here(and virtually none are by UK owned companies), it will be a spectacularly expensive way of saving jobs in the UK, assuming it increases car sales at all. On the other hand it will be quite a  handy way to subsidise jobs in the rest of the world.

In April 2007 there were 170,000 new vehicle sales. Is the government so bereft of ideas that it can genuinely think of no better way of spending £340,000 a month than to do what the SMMT wants? Please could you let me know your views on this matter, and urge you to lobby against this populist but ultimately inefficient use of public funds being introduced? On a parochial note, although I would argue that this policy won’t benefit anyone anyway, I absolutely can’t see many people in Maltby benefiting from it as to do so would require one to purchase a new car.

I would prefer you to reply via email as it to reply by post is a waste of both resources financial and resources carbon.

Kevin replied:

In relation to the comments in your email of 11th March about the call for government subsidies to purchase new cars, I am not sure this is anything more than speculation by the automobile industry. Until such time as things become a little clearer, I feel your request for my views and your encouragement for me to vote against this to be somewhat irrelevant, although I have to say that some people in Maltby do buy new cars.

You will note how he has simulatneously failed to address my questions, dismissed the concerns of someone he represents as “irrelevant” and suggested that I said that no-one in Maltby buys new cars.

I replied:

Please reply via email to

Ref your letter of 18th March 2009 Ref KJB/SW

I note that you did not address any of my concerns in your response.

In both cases you have responded to items that are on the current political agenda with a non-response.

<snip part of letter about proposals to reduce the speed limit on A roads>

With regard to the idea of subsidising the scrapping of cars, I understand it is an idea that is being discussed in Westminster, so I don’t think my request to my representative there what his views are on the matter is ‘irrelevant.’ It could only be irrelevant if you considered either or both of your ability to influence any decision and the the significance of my views to be negligible.

Could I ask you again what your views are on such a scheme, given the issues with it I raised in my previous letter?

On a wider note, if before policies have been decided is not the correct time to seek to find out the opinion of one’s MP in order to establish if one need press for one’s own view to be considered, perhaps you would be so kind as to tell me when is.

On 14th April Kevin sent this reply

Thank you for your further views in relation to the potential scrappage scheme for old cars. As I have said previously, I would be more than happy to comment on this when I find out if there is any intent. Obviously the forthcoming budget may announce such a scheme, at which time I will give you my views once I have read the details

So another non-response – basically saying ‘it’ll be in the budget, by which time I will have been briefed on what a splendid idea it is, any anyway by then your views really will be irrelevant becuase there is no chance of me voting against the whole budget because of this one issue. I have no desire to represent your views in the meantime.’

The reference to ‘studying the details’ is a red-herring. I don’t believe such a scheme is a good use of resources however it is implemented – it is neither economically efficient, nor environmentally beneficial. The ‘details’ aren’t going to change the fact that it is fundamentally a flawed idea.

Note how the question of when is the best time to consult one’s MP is studiously ignored.

On the 16th April the papers were awash with stories outlining the government’s plans to implement a scheme whereby motorists are to be given a £5,000 subsidy to buy electric cars.

You can read about it in The Guardian, The Independent, The Times, The Telegraph, and on the BBC. The Telegraph is also still reporting that the scheme to pay out £2,00o for scrapping older petrol cars is also still on the agenda for the budget. Just don’t bother asking your elected representative what he thinks about the principle on which the scheme will operate, as he doesn’t seem to care to offer one. Perhaps he considers the spending of a mere couple of hundred million pounds too trivial to worry about?

Update – Wednesday 22 April 2009

Of course it was no surprise when the scrappage scheme was announced in the budget today. I knew it would be, so one assumes Kevin Barron knew it would be.

The scheme is pretty much exactly as it was reported weeks ago -although I asked for Mr Barrons’s views on the general principle, he replied that he couldn’t comment as there were no details. I would suggest that there were details. I sent them to him.

Anyway, my poor keyboard will have to suffer some more as I write to him again about the same issue. I wonder if he will answer my questions this time?


One response to “Proposed Subsidy for Scrapping Cars

  1. Pingback: New Reply from Kevin Barron re: Scrapping Cars « Politics in the Rother Valley and Maltby

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