Emergency summit called as petrol hits record price

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The Government is to hold an emergency summit today with oil industry executives to draw up contingency plans to cope with a growing fuel crisis as it emerged petrol had reached record prices in the UK.

Petroleum suppliers' representatives will meet officials from the Department of Trade and Industry to discuss how to cope with a future crisis including widespread protests about the price of fuel. They will also discuss scenarios including blockades of petrol forecourts in the UK, a terrorist attack on oil refineries and cuts in supply from the Middle East.

"This is a routine contingency planning exercise which happens two or three times a year," said a DTI spokesman. "It happens to involve members of the oil and petrol industry. They will be discussing oil disruption of some kind and will look at various scenarios."

Meanwhile it emerged yesterday some petrol stations are charging as much as a pound a litre. The AA Motoring Trust said the average price of a litre of fuel on Britain's forecourts had hit 81.3p and was rising.

"We have had reports of some pump prices charging a pound a litre and one in the North-west charging 109p a litre," a spokesman said.

As world crude prices continued to hit levels not seen since the first 1990-91 Gulf War, UK petrol prices looked set to breach the 85p a litre mark that triggered protests in 2000, which brought the country to a virtual standstill. Crude oil rose as high as $41 a barrel in New York.

Ray Holloway, of the Petrol Retailers Association, said prices were likely to rise further if the crude oil cost stayed above $40. "There are implications for pump prices about a month ahead. You're looking at a rise of six to seven pence," he said.

One of the ringleaders of the 2000 fuel revolt, Brynle Williams, a North Wales farmer and now a Welsh Assembly member, has warned new protests against rising petrol prices are a "distinct possibility". Yesterday the Road Haulage Association unveiled plans by Scottish hauliers to hold a demonstration in Edinburgh next month.

"The members within my region are suffering like never before," said Phil Flanders, RHA's Scotland and Northern Ireland director. "Operators are now working to the tightest possible margins - making even a small profit on a job will soon be a thing of the past." Freight groups are angry at Government plans to impose a rise in the level of fuel duty on 1 September that would add almost 2p to a litre of fuel. The Freight Transport Association said the increase alone would cost UK industry £250m a year.

The hike was postponed in the Budget to allow new non-sulphur fuel to gain a foothold. It was delayed last year because of volatile oil prices in the run up to the Iraq war.