Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Anger at fuel prices pits motorists against the government

Anger over fuel prices is intensifying, with motorists lobbying Downing Street on duty rises. But a protest veteran tells Channel 4 News that economic insecurity will weaken campaigners' resolve.

Anger at fuel prices pits motorists against the government

A petition calling on the government to scrap the planned 1p rise in fuel duty has been handed in to Number 10 Downing Street.

The petition came as motorists staged a go-slow protest in Kent and two travel companies - Thomson and Thomas Cook - announced that they were introducing fuel surcharges to flights following a surge in fuel prices as a result of the Middle East Crisis.
The Fair Fuel Campaign campaign aims to see the planned April fuel duty increase scrapped and is seeking the introduction of a fuel price stabiliser at a reasonable level.

Campaigners claim that the fuel duty changes could represent an increase of as much as 5p per litre.

Fair Fuel UK's petition has attracted 125,000 signatures over a four-week period. The lobby group is also encouraging its supporters to email their Member of Parliament and have signed up 86 MPs to the cause.

The campaign's backers include the RAC, Freight Transport Association and the former Top Gear presenter Quentin Willson.

Campaign manager Peter Carroll said the campaign would continue in the run up to the budget on 23 March.

Difficult task

But an organiser of the fuel blockade in 2000, which caused a shortage of petrol and diesel for several days, warned that the Fair Fuel campaigners face a difficult task.

Dairy farmer David Handley, welcomed Fair Fuel's campaign, but he said the situation is very different to that of 2000.

"In 2000 we had economic stability," he said. "People were more focused on the things that affected their lives. They did not have the worries we do now."

"Now people are concerned about whether they will have a job at the end of 2011 and about the cut backs. To get a protest together that would make a impact would be very different in the circumstances."

Mr Handley said that fuel prices are having a devastating affect on the farming industry and is hitting consumers in the form of food price rises.

But he said that a penny on duty won't make a great deal of difference to the average person's situation.

"Fuel costs have trebled in three months," he said. "In 2000 the issue was duty, today it is oil companies' profiteering."

Mr Handley's comments follow a go-slow protest on the M2 and the M25 in Kent which attracted only a handful of vehicles.

A protest last week outside the Stanlow Oil refinery in Ellesmere Port, the starting place of the 2000 fuel strikes, attracted between 150 and 250 protesters.

Scotland is experiencing even higher fuel prices and the Scottish National Party has launched a bid to devolve responsibility over fuel duty to the Scottish Parliament.

The publication of amendments to the Scotland Bill coincides with an SNP debate in the Scottish Parliament led by SNP MSP Dr Alasdair Allan demanding immediate action to tackle rising fuel prices.

"If the UK Government won't take action, the Scottish Government will," said Dr Allan. "I am calling on MPs from all parties to back the SNP's amendment and give the Scottish Parliament the authority to take action over fuel."


The cost of oil is also affecting airlines and travel firms, with Thomas Cook becoming the latest company to announce an increase in fuel surcharges.

The surcharge means that short haul passengers will pay an extra £15 per person on new bookings, with medium haul and long haul journeys costing £25 and £40 more respectively.

The company has blamed the introduction of surcharges on the rising price of oil, and the subsequent increases in the cost of jet fuel, which it claimed has increased by more than 40 per cent in the past year.

Ian Ailles, an executive at Thomas Cook UK & Ireland, said: "We've worked hard to keep the impact of the rising fuel costs on our holidaymakers to a minimum but the fuel levy is an unavoidable result of the rising price of oil."

British Airways has had a fuel surcharge in place since 2004, which it increased on its longhaul services on 8 February 2011.

Low cost carriers Easyjet and Ryanair both said they had no plans to introduce fuel surcharges.

A spokesperson for Ryanair said the airline guarantees its customers that it will not impose fuel surcharges because it does not believe that they reflect the true cost of fuel.

He added that most airlines have a policy of hedging, where they buy fuel in bulk when it is cheapest to offset price rises.

"This is simply an opportunist price increase from high cost airlines," he said. "We buy forward - we have bought most of our fuel for this year already."