UNIONS today called for bridge tolls on the Mersey Gateway and Silver Jubilee to be scrapped.

Halton Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) members are urging Liverpool metro mayor Steve Rotheram, Halton MP Derek Twigg and Weaver Vale Mike Amesbury MP to meet with the Government to press for the ‘immediate removal of all proposed charges and tolls’.

A TUSC spokesman said: “Workers and families across the region are already struggling with the effects of Tory austerity, the continued stagnation of wages and the unabated rise in energy prices, household bills and transport costs.

“The last thing they need is another drain on resources which are already stretched to the limit. Many activities are already beyond the financial reach of a lot of families, without this new stealth tax.”

They fear trade could be hit and jobs threatened.

“Small businesses will suffer the consequences of customers being put off travelling across the Mersey due to the increased cost,” said a TUSC spokesman. “The area’s entertainment, restaurant and pub industry will face similar problems. “Larger businesses will pass on increased costs to customers, creating a new source of inflation.

“Businesses will face the loss of skilled or experienced workers who will be forced to bear the brunt of additional outlay on their journeys.”

They say plans for taxi customers to reclaim the additional cost on journeys are ill-conceived and unworkable.

Reducing tolls on the Humber Bridge, they claim, has led to an increase in prosperity, trade and jobs.

“The bridges should be taken under British Government control rather than be run for profit by the French arm of Spanish conglomerate Abertis,” added a TUSC spokesman “Foreign ownership means more money flowing out of a region already subsidising the nationalised transport system in Germany, Holland and Denmark, whose efficient, low cost rail and bus networks put our shoddy privateers to shame.”

TUSC has pledged to support workers, trade unions and community groups in opposing tolls and says they will fight any attempt to prosecute those who can't or won't pay.

David Parr, chief executive of Halton Council and the Mersey Gateway Crossings Board, said: “Government’s response has been clear and consistent. It is a tolled Silver Jubilee bridge and Mersey Gateway or no new bridge.

“The free flow tolling system will make everybody’s journey across the river and through Halton quicker, easier and more reliable.”