Lorries go off-shore to avoid tax

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The Independent Online
EDDIE STOBART, Britain's most famous lorry company, is to register up to half of its fleet abroad in protest at the sharp rise in vehicle tax announced in the Budget. The news came as it emerged hauliers are poised to launch a transport strike over rising costs.

The Carlisle-based company will register at least 100 lorries this year in either Luxembourg or Belgium. But Stobart said it could move out half of its 800-strong fleet.

The move will allow the company to pay Vehicle Excise Duty of just pounds 338 in Luxembourg or pounds 876 in Belgium for its 40-tonne five-axle lorries. This compares with pounds 5,750 in Britain, which the Chancellor increased from pounds 3,210.

If Eddie Stobart takes advantage of the discrepancy and registers 400 vehicles abroad, the company will save over pounds 2m a year.

The move is known as "flagging out" because it works on the same principle as shipowners who register their fleet with flags of convenience to take advantage of lower tax regimes.

Edward Stobart, chairman and chief executive, said that he was making the move to register lorries abroad reluctantly and warned it could have a long-term harmful effect on vehicle safety in the UK.

"If you register them on the Continent and run them in the UK, the Ministry of Transport can't do anything with you. That will attract unsafe measures and people - though not Stobarts - will get away with a lot of things that they can't do at the moment"

Mr Stobart said his move was in response to competition from European hauliers who take advantage of the tax discrepancies. "We have European fleets coming into the UK with full tanks of cheaper diesel and leaving with empty tanks, paying no tax to our Government. It is ludicrous and the Government is losing out.."