Petrol protests fall flat

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A blockade by hauliers protesting over crippling fuel taxes fell flat today when only 12 out of an expected 200 truckers turned up to take part.

A blockade by hauliers protesting over crippling fuel taxes fell flat today when only 12 out of an expected 200 truckers turned up to take part.

The Hauliers Farmers Alliance "rolling roadblock" left Ashford with just a dozen supporters taking part in the 30mph crawl to Dover, the country's busiest port.

Alliance chairman Len Johnson said: "It is very disappointing, for there has been a lot of confusion with the police, who did not want us to leave from Ashford but leave from Medway instead.

"We will go anyway, it only takes three lorries to block up the road. We will also be meeting 20 truckers in Dover who will add to the protest.

"We don't understand why there is such a low turn out. The phone didn't stop ringing yesterday with people saying they would be here.

"It may be because it is very expensive to companies to send a truck on a working Tuesday, but we have been let down by some of the bigger companies which we expected to turn up."

The protest was timed to coincide with today's "dump the pump day" campaign urging motorists to boycott petrol stations in protest at soaring fuel taxes.

This also seemed to have a lot less support than the organisers had hoped for.

Business was brisk at the Esso service station in West Street, Tradeston, Glasgow, as motorists queued to buy fuel.

Nick Lacey, a salesman from Glasgow, filled his Volkswagen Golf and said: "I knew about the campaign but I actually forgot about it. I do think that the price is too high but what can you do? You're stuck.

"I work in Livingston and I have to have the car to get me there and all round about to do my job. It's just essential."

Bob Cockburn, licensee at Esso's Collingwood Main Service Station in North Shields, Tyne & Wear, where unleaded fuel is priced at 79.9 per litre, said business was down by half today.

He said: "It has been very quiet indeed, with only dribs and drabs coming in since the morning. However, yesterday was very busy and we are expecting tomorrow to be busy as well."

It was a similar picture in Morpeth, Northumberland, where the Jet Conoco garage on Station Road reported the numbers of motorists filling up down by roughly half.

A spokesman said: "Trade has been steady, but it is definitely quieter than a normal weekday, possibly by as much as half.

"The people who are filling up are taxi drivers who have a job to do, or people who have simply forgotten about the boycott or who have forgotten to fill up before."

A spokeswoman for Texaco garages said she had spoken to managers at various branches and there had been no report of any drop in sales.

She said: "It's business a usual as far as we're concerned."

Boycott organiser Mr Russell said later he was delighted with the response to the campaign.

IT consultant Mr Russell said: "Our friends from the Petrol Retailers' Association said there was an increase of 35-40% in people filling up last night.

"I went to a Texaco garage this morning and they had one vehicle turn up in an hour when normally there would be in the region of 35.

"I'm absolutely delighted with the result.

"There is obviously a huge amount of anti-Government sentiment and I hope this is a signal to them that the British motorist is sick of the high tax increases on fuel."

"This is an opportunity for motorists to stand united in protest."

Mr Russell said he hoped motorists would continue to boycott pumps every Monday until the Government was pressured into bringing prices down.

The Freight Transport Association said while it understood motorist's frustration with rising fuel prices, it did not back the boycott.

A spokesman said if freight transport joined in, then deliveries would have to be postponed - alienating customers and motorists.

"We understand motorists' motives but we don't agree with their methods," he said.

But the association has taken advantage of the publicity surrounding today's boycott to call for a reduction on the burden of tax on diesel, which it claims is "by far the highest in Europe".

FTA head of external affairs, Geoff Dossetter, said: "The fact that the essential fuel UK industry uses to deliver goods and services is so much higher than anywhere else in Europe places UK industry at an obvious disadvantage and contributes to higher prices and inflation.

"The Government takes 75p in every £1 paid for fuel. The Chancellor should recognise the nonsense of unnecessarily penalising the UK industry in this way and provide help by reducing the duty level."

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Andrew Lansley, speaking on BBC Radio 4's World at One programme, said: "A balance has to be struck between meeting our environmental objectives and the impact which high petrol taxes have on people who are in business and poorer users of cars.

"When we left office in 1997, petrol did not cost more than it did in Continental European countries. The increase in petrol taxes has been 34% in three years.

"The Labour Government are increasing petrol taxes in order to raise large amounts of revenue to fund Gordon Brown's spending.

"We voted against the last increase in fuel duty. We will not increase spending faster than the nation can afford through growth in the economy. That gives us room for tax reductions in the future," he added.