Suffolk/Essex: Business leaders’ concern over rapidly rising fuel costs

RAPIDLY-rising petrol prices are fuelling fears of a new crisis among business leaders.

With the cost of filling up approaching record highs set in February – and oil prices on the rise – some firms reliant on transport are struggling to contain expenditure.

UK fuel prices rose 2.5% at the pumps over the last month, according to the AA, with petrol going up 3.34p a litre and diesel up 3.19p a litre since mid-July.

And East Anglia has reportedly overtaken Northern Ireland as the most expensive region for unleaded, with the average price at 136.1p a litre.

Chris Soule, branch chairman of the Suffolk Federation of Small Businesses, said: “This issue has been continuing for so long that people are beginning to feel completely browbeaten.

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“It doesn’t matter if you are a small shopkeeper or a big delivery firm, higher cost of fuel means less profit. Lack of confidence in the economy means traders are already having to reduce prices to encourage people to part with their money. I think we will soon hit crisis-point.”

Felixstowe-based haulage firm Deben Transport Ltd says it now spends more than �0.5million a year on fuel – four-fifths of which is duty.

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For the first time in the company’s 25-year history, the cost of fuel has overtaken the cost of wages, accounting for 40% of expenditure. Paul Dawson, the firm’s managing director, said: “This has an impact on everyone. The rising cost of fuel will eventually be passed on to the consumer.

“We are big users of fuel. An ‘essential users’ rebate would bring the cost down for us, and in turn the public would have more money in their pockets.”

The Taxpayers’ Alliance this week launched a nationwide campaign with thousands of display cards distributed to petrol stations declaring that �18 of every �30 spent at the pumps is paid in fuel duty and VAT, with only �1 out of the remaining �12 going to the retailer.

Jonathan Isaby, the group’s political director, said: “Suffolk is a particularly rural county and one where the problem is bigger than most. We hope that people will be more motivated to act by virtue of knowing how much goes to the Government.

“If the Government could postpone the duty rise in August, they can postpone it again in January. The rise must not happen – it would be political suicide to do so.”

Campaigners are calling for the Chancellor to freeze fuel duty for the rest of the coalition Government’s term. This month’s planned rise has been delayed, meaning prices at the pump are cheaper than they would otherwise have been – but with the value of oil creeping steadily up in the last few months, the price at the pumps looks set to follow suit.

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