There were reports of panic buying as lobbyists warned of blockades of refineries in an attempt to persuade the Government to reduce fuel tax. VAT and duty make up 61.1% of the pump price in Britain. That tax, combined with soaring oil prices in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, has sent petrol and diesel prices above £1 a litre.
Some commentators predict prices will soon top £5 a gallon. Protestors are urging Chancellor Gordon Brown to reduce the duty, but he has so far refused, putting the onus for cutting prices on the oil industry.
Lobby groups had said unless dialogue was established with the Government by Tuesday, action would be taken from yesterday (Wednesday) until tomorrow.
This could include the blockade of refineries and the Port of Dover. The South Wales Hauliers’ Association is planning to block the M4 and there are rumours of similar protests on the M25 and other motorways around the country.
Similar protests in 2000 brought the UK to a near standstill. David Dippie, chairman of the London West region of the Association of Car Fleet Operators (ACFO), said the effect of the protest on fleets depended on the Chancellor.
He said: ‘It depends whether you believe Gordon Brown is bluffing. If he is and the protests get the cost of fuel down, fleets will benefit. But he’s said he won’t change his mind on the subject and we’ve got an impasse if that’s the case. Our members are dependent on fuel for their businesses so any hold-up at the pumps will cost them.’
Alan Greene, spokesman for the Welsh Less Tax on Fuel Campaign, said he hoped the protests would spark more of the same. He said: ‘Why should we be paying almost double the price for fuel as Europe? This British Government is ripping us off. It’s criminal.’
The rising cost of fuel is already having an impact on fleets as drivers begin to request increased mileage reimbursement rates, complaining that those advised by HM Revenue & Customs do not adequately reimburse them.
Mike Waters, head of market analysis at fleet and fuel management firm Arval, said: ‘Many fleets are experiencing increased driver queries and complaints. Major blue chip customers are actively considering ditching pay and reclaim in favour of mandatory fuel cards and cost reimbursement.
‘Historically, set pence-per-mile rates would have adequately compensated drivers for the cost of their business mileage fuel.
‘However, with high fuel prices we anticipate further customer enquiries about actual cost reimbursement methods.’