UK's scrappage scheme: how will we remember it?

Published: 28 December 2009

The popular concensus at the end of 2009 is that the government’s scrappage scheme has been a success in the UK.

It has provided a massive boost to the motor industry, generating footfall in previously deserted dealerships, keeping production line workers at their posts and generally having the same effect on the automotive sector as a healthy squirt of WD40 on a rusted hinge.

And although the government prevaricated endlessly before watering down the cash incentive and bullying the car makers into paying half, it’s reasonable to surmise that hundreds and probably thousands more people would be having a much more miserable Christmas if it were not for scrappage.

I’m not going to shoot it down, but there is another way of looking at it.

The scheme is horribly short-termist – designed to falsely generate virtual demand for a product which is being massively overproduced and prolonging the need for inevitable change that, when it comes, will be just as painful as it would have been in 2009 had scrappage never happened.

Worse, it has provoked thousands of people to destroy perfectly serviceable cars in exchange for a new car they didn’t need or particularly want, at the same time taking on thousands of pounds of new debt to finance the purchase. Many of these are older people, hoodwinked into taking out finance they didn’t need.

So the motor industry chugs on, churning out cars every minute of every day, nearly all of them still running on polluting internal combustion engines. And these cars are still advertised as being built to last, even though they’ll be urging you to junk them in a few years’ time.

The industry’s moment of doom has been rescheduled to a later date, at huge cost to you, me, everybody. But that day will still come. The question is this: is it better to let market forces do their thing, get through the pain barrier and emerge fitter on the other side, or is it better to pump the patient full of drugs?

It’s tempting to be cynical and think that while there are general elections, the drugs will always win through; but then again, nobody from this same government stepped in to prop up Rover…

By Greg Fountain

CAR's former managing editor, editor, caption chiseller, noticer of ironies