The Freight Transport Association (FTA) has condemned the latest increase in fuel duty planned for 1 January 2011 as a New Year’s present from the Chancellor that will leave the freight industry with a £95 million hangover. The increase of 0.76 pence per litre from January is the third rise since April 2010 and will push diesel prices to within four pence per litre of the all-time highs reached in July 2008 when oil prices were at $145 per barrel.
Simon Chapman, FTA’s Chief Economist, said:
"Diesel is not an optional extra for industry. It is essential to keep shops stocked and businesses supplied with materials. Rises in fuel commodity prices have already left operators facing diesel prices nine pence per litre higher than a year ago – adding £3,800 per year to the bill of running an articulated truck. This latest fuel duty increase, together with those previously introduced this year will add a further £1,200 per year."
Diesel currently represents 35 per cent of the cost of running a truck. With carriers already struggling to pass on higher costs resulting from rising crude oil prices, the latest fuel duty rise will make commercial viability all the harder for the sector.
"The Chancellor is treating the road freight sector as a bottomless well from which cash to bolster the public finances can be drawn. At the same time he has embarked on a savage set of cuts to transport infrastructure which will see spending on national road schemes fall by 45 per cent and local authority budgets for capital schemes slashed.
"For the UK to trade its way out of recession its supply chains need to be cost competitive and its roads must provide reliable routes to market. Neither is achieved by a tax base spiralling well above inflation and a transport network starved of investment."
FTA is concerned that the Government may be tempted to augment Treasury coffers by using environmental issues to justify fuel duty rises beyond the current commitment. The argument for increasing the rate of fuel duty for companies in the transport sector to reduce carbon emissions is dubious and could even be counter productive.
"There is a propensity for government to disguise revenue raising exercises under a large green banner. However, while fuel duty hikes may influence the behaviour of the private motorist – who can substitute car journeys with public transport – lorries simply have to be driven if we want our shelves stocked.
"Ironically, raising fuel tax simply reduces the amount of cash the industry has to invest in eco-driver training and newer, cleaner engines. Fuel duty is not a lever that can be pulled to reduce the logistics sector’s carbon emissions, suggesting otherwise is simply ‘greenwash’."