Campaigners say TIF bid undermines democracy

Date published: 04 December 2008

Campaigners who oppose the congestion charge plan for Greater Manchester are demanding an inquiry into how the Transport Innovation Fund plans were ever submitted and the way that the campaign to sell them has been conducted.

They say that this should take place whatever the result is in the referendum, as there will be lessons to be learnt about how authorities try to force through what they believe to be unpopular policies.

John McGoldrick, for the National Alliance Against Tolls, said that the plan had only survived this far because the vast majority of councillors and the public had not been aware of what was going on.

He said: "Over the last 18 months the people of Greater Manchester have been subjected to a multi million pound propaganda exercise dressed up as a "consultation". The campaign that is taking place now has been conducted in a manner that would not have been permitted if this had been held under the strict law that applies to referendums.

"The authorities have largely copied what was done in Edinburgh in February 2005 in an attempt to disguise a ballot on road tolls as if it were a question of whether people would like better transport."

The anti toll campaigners say that they made several complaints to the Local Government Ombudsman about the way that AGMA, the GMPTA and one Greater Manchester council was behaving.

The Ombudsman rejected the complaints, though this took 10 months from the date of the first complaint.

The Ombudsman did not reject the complaints because it thought they were not justified. It said that it could not consider them as it had no "jurisdiction" over AGMA which was only a "voluntary association".

Though John McGoldrick points out that the Government seemed to have been happy to accept this "voluntary association" as the body that was submitting the TIF plans.

The complaints could also not be considered because the Ombudsman said that the TIF proposals affected "all or most of the citizens of the authority complained about". Campaigners contrasted this reply with the claim that hardly any drivers would pay the toll.

The Alliance also complained about the refusal of the Department for Transport to reveal the TIF submission that was made by AGMA and the GMPTA at the beginning of August 2007. The Department for Transport refused to reveal any of the submission until nearly a year later, when at the end of July 2008 the GMPTA released a version of it.

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