Petrol tops £1-a-litre

IT'S HERE - £1-a-litre petrol has arrived in Suffolk.The milestone price for unleaded petrol has today been reached in the county, bringing with it calls for the government to change the tax system to help the people of East Anglia.

IT'S HERE - £1-a-litre petrol has arrived in Suffolk.

The milestone price for unleaded petrol has today been reached in the county, bringing with it calls for the government to change the tax system to help the people of East Anglia.

It also prompted threats of a repeat of the fuel protests of 2000.

The price was reached at Spencers Garage in The Street, Martlesham, where a litre of unleaded is now 106.9p. At Norton Service Station, near Bury St Edmunds it is £1.02 and at College Farm Service Station in Lowestoft, a litre of unleaded is now 101.9p.

John Smith, owner of Norton Service Station, near Bury St Edmunds, said he had been forced by petrol suppliers to put his price for a litre of unleaded petrol beyond the £1 mark and made less than 3p a litre profit.

Mr Smith, who has been in the trade for 40 years and can remember when petrol cost less than £1 for four gallons, said spiralling costs and competition from supermarkets could force him out of business.

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“On Friday after the hurricane the price from the supplier went up by 8p or 9p and we went from 95p or 96p a litre to £1.03,” he said.

“The petrol we sell here just about covers the overheads, it's almost entirely run as an extra service for the community, we don't make any profit out of it.”

Last week's hurricane in America and the ongoing trouble in the Middle East are being blamed for pushing prices of crude oil sky high resulting in massive price hikes at the pumps.

Over the rest of the county the cost of unleaded has risen from an average of 90.4p to 95.0p in the last month - around 13p more than the average national price of 81.9p in September 2000 when fuel protests were causing chaos on the roads.

Jake Overy, owner of the College Farm Garage, said: “We had no choice but to put up the price, we only make 2.5p on each litre and so we had to go over £1 to survive.

“Most of the customers have been very understanding and they have no choice but to pay as they need their cars to get around.

“The big supermarkets can afford to offer low prices, even selling at a loss, but we can't do that and it's pushing us out of business.”

Mr Overy blamed the government for the spiralling costs: “They need bring down tax temporarily during this peak period because it's really bad for the local economy, however they just want to continue getting their money,” he said.

He promised his customers that he would reduce the cost as soon as possible, but stressed that action needed to be taken soon.

Farmer and haulier Andrew Spence, a spokesman for the Fuel Lobby, said refineries will be blockaded from 6am on Wednesday, September 14, if cuts are not seen.

The lobby said it was prepared to re-create the week-long protests of September 2000 which caused shortages and buying panic at the pumps.

"We want to see an immediate reduction in taxation to bring fuel prices down or as of 6am next Wednesday there won't be a refinery in the country left open. Every refinery will be blockaded," said Mr Spence, from Consett, County Durham.

Ruth Bridger, petrol price analyst for the AA motoring trust, said: “The rise is really being caused by the disaster in the US last week with Hurricane Katrina - that pushed the crude oil prices up.

“They lost over 50 oil platforms in the Gulf and nine of their refineries are completely out of action, which is 10 per cent of their supply.

“They are now looking to try to source fuel from outside the USA - that just puts prices up and demand is already high anyway.”

Ms Bridger said our region historically loses out when it comes to petrol prices.

She said: “I think the price in East Anglia is higher because there are a lot of remote rural areas. If you've got a lot of big cities you tend to get a lot of competition and bulk buying, whereas a remote petrol station can't buy in bulk and get discounted prices.”

Dr Wil Gibson, chief executive of rural charity Suffolk ACRE, said the huge fuel price rises would hit the region hard.

“It will be a problem because people in rural areas are particularly reliant on cars. We know that the rural economy in Suffolk is large and low-paid so those on low incomes who are dependent on cars are going to be doubly hit,” he said.

“The price of petrol is hitting £1 a litre and that's serious money. Suffolk ACRE has argued that the Government should make a choice between an environmental tax on petrol or reduce or replace the road tax.

“At the moment we are paying heavily for petrol and also for road tax, which isn't fair.”

PETE Butler, Road Haulage Association senior area manager for the southern and eastern region, said the price of diesel had gone up by 7p since March - and a 2p rise cost the average haulier an extra £1,840 a month.

“It depends on the size of the fleet, but it gives you an idea. Price rises have a huge impact - because of fuel costs some hauliers are even doing a review of their rates quarterly instead of annually,” he said.

“At the end of the day the people who are suffering are me and you. If the major retailers are having to foot the bill then they pass it on to us. It's horrendous.”

“People are going out of business because they just can't afford the diesel. Their customers are unwilling to foot the bill so they are having to take on the cost, but it can't go on forever.

“Small companies especially are really feeling the pinch - more people will be forced out of business. A lot of foreign hauliers get fuel rebates, but we get none.

“What we need is for Chancellor Gordon Brown to get off his bottom, take out fuel duty completely and replace it with VAT so at least we can claim it back.”

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