Duty hikes may drive farmers and hauliers to fuel protests

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The Independent Online

Road hauliers and farmers are considering a new wave of protests amid mounting concern about the impact on their business of increases in the cost of fuel. Andrew Spence, the farmer from County Durham who helped lead the protests in 2000 that paralysed much of Britain, is just one of several activists considering taking action.

The two industries are furious that despite the spiralling oil price, which has lead to a 20 per cent increase in the cost of petrol and diesel in recent months, the Government has pressed ahead with increases in fuel duty, and the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, plans a further increase in spring.

A spokeswoman for the Road Haulage Association, said: "We had hoped the new Chancellor would have had a greater understanding of our industry, bearing in mind his previous position as secretary of state for transport, but this is obviously not the case."

Mr Spence, who has led a series of demonstrations since the blockade in 2000 of fuel depots and refineries across the country, said yesterday he was considering action, following requests from farmers and hauliers.

While subsequent demonstrations have had less impact than the crisis caused in 2000, particularly following new legislation which makes it harder for protesters to block depots providing essential supplies, there is mounting anger about the cost of fuel.

"Unless we find ways of bring this issue to greater public awareness, an awful lot of people are going to go out of business," said Ricky Morris, the managing director of Ritchie Transport. "The Government is not bothered about the rising cost of fuel because it earns extra tax revenues from the increases."

The accountancy firm Grant Thornton said yesterday that the oil price increases of recent months were now generating an additional £12m of tax revenue every day for the Treasury, the equivalent of £4.4bn a year. Mr Darling implemented a 2p fuel duty increase last month and plans a further 2p rise next April.

Motorists' groups have been fiercely critical of the rises, particularly because VAT at 17.5 per cent is payable on the fuel duty, as well as the cost of the fuel itself. Andrew Howard, the head of road safety at the AA, said that while he believed next April's increase should be abandoned, there was little appetite for fuel protests among ordinary drivers. "Drivers seem to be putting up with higher prices – so far at least," he said.