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Treasury makes £20m on speed
Speed cameras are generating profits of more than £20 million a year for the Chancellor, new figures show.
The number of fixed penalty fines issued in England and Wales has soared seven-fold from about 260,000 in 2000-2001 to 1.8 million in 2003-2004.Last night the Tories renewed their call for a review of what they called "a stealth tax" on motorists.
As the result of a decision by the Government to promote speed camera installation by allowing councils to retain fines revenue to cover costs, there are now about 6,000 cameras across the country, 2,500 of them mobile units.
From April, only two areas in England - Co Durham and North Yorkshire - will not be covered by "safety camera partnerships", made up of councils and police, which oversee installation of devices.
The cameras, which first appeared on English roads in 1992, have to be sited in areas with a history of road safety problems.
Under the scheme, councils cannot profit from the revenue and any surpluses that arise go into Gordon Brown's Treasury consolidated fund.
The Government insists that speed cameras are good for safety, with an independent report last year claiming that the expanding network was saving 100 lives a year.
Alistair Darling, the Transport Secretary, said the vast majority of cameras had brought "real benefits in safety and prove that they are justified".
Motorists caught by the cameras have three points added to their licence and pay a £60 fixed penalty.
Plans to introduce variable fees, lowering them to £40 for less serious breaches but raising them to £100 for graver ones, may be included in the Road Safety Bill.
David Jamieson, the road safety minister, said that in 2000-1, with only seven safety partnership schemes operating, receipts from fixed penalty notices - then £40 a time - totalled £10.3 million. After taking into account £8.9 million expenses on installation and running costs, the Treasury made a £1.3 million profit.
But by 2002-03 the rapid spread of camera partnerships and the rise in fines to £60 resulted in a £68 million fines income and a Government profit of £14 million.
Provisional figures for the most recent year available, 2003-04, show that revenue has leapt to £112.2 million across the 35 camera partnerships. An estimated £20 million profit will go to the Treasury when the £91.8 million cost of installation and maintenance is deducted.
Last year John Redwood, the Tories' deregulation spokesman, raised the prospect of a Conservative government scrapping unnecessary cameras as part of wider plans to stop motoring being "regulated to death".
Tim Yeo, the shadow transport secretary, stressed yesterday that the Tories were not against cameras when they helped to save lives.
But he raised fears that the scale of Government profits meant that camera fines were becoming "a stealth tax".
An RAC survey, to be published next week, will say that motorists remain unhappy about the cameras. In a poll of drivers last year, the organisation found that 72 per cent of motorists thought speed cameras were "more about raising revenue" than safety.
The Department for Transport said the income from fines should eventually drop off as the cameras encouraged more people to drive safely.
English councils raised nearly £1 billion from parking charges in 2002-3, 50 per cent more than when Labour came to power.