Hauliers threaten to snub forum

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THE ROAD haulage industry yesterday threatened to walk out of a government forum set up to defuse the lorry drivers' crisis, claiming that hauliers were facing their "darkest hour" for a quarter of a century.

The Freight Transport Association and the Road Haulage Association agreed to join the forum, which will include Transport, Trade and Treasury ministers, to consider the effects of big increases in diesel duty and road tax announced in the Budget.

But Steve Norris, head of the RHA, said: "We came here principally concerned with road tax and fuel duty. If there's any hint that a talking-shop is being presented, then I would want no part in it."

John Reid, Transport minister, said all the issues would be open for discussion. "We will look at the general issues of competitiveness, domestically and internationally, of the road haulage industry, and hopefully find common ground on the statistics that relate to this. I hope personally that this forum can be a bridge to the future for the industry."

The tax increase means it will cost British hauliers pounds 5,750 to register a 40-ton lorry, compared with pounds 338 in Luxembourg. The previous British rate was pounds 3,310.