The Trader

Portrait of Britain besieged
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The Independent Online

Vince Friery flicked through the order books of his courier firm with a distinct look of frustration. They were fuller than usual, but given the current fuel crisis gripping the country, he doubted his company had enough petrol to last to the end of the week to fulfill the orders.

Vince Friery flicked through the order books of his courier firm with a distinct look of frustration. They were fuller than usual, but given the current fuel crisis gripping the country, he doubted his company had enough petrol to last to the end of the week to fulfill the orders.

"We have had a huge number of calls from non-account customers who do not have the fuel to make their own deliveries," he said yesterday as he sat in the offices of his Liverpool-based firm, Swift Despatch. We are refusing orders from people who are calling for the first time, which is incredibly frustrating for us. Everyone is panicking about the lack of petrol so businesses solve that problem by contacting a courier firm.

"Unfortunately, we cannot get fuel either so we are in the same boat. The trouble is that we cannot pass the problem on. The whole reason people call a courier firm is because the job is urgent and they need the goods delivered immediately."

Mr Friery, 44, employs 40 people and has a fleet of around 30 vehicles in a business which he has built up over the past 17 years. In that time, he has seen nothing like this.

"Every job is urgent so we have to turn them down. We cannot expect them to wait while we try to get some fuel or hope the blockade is lifted," he said. "As a businessman it is so frustrating to have the orders, the staff and the vehicles but not the fuel. I am deeply concerned about the effect of this protest on my business.

"Some of the vans have enough fuel for one more journey and we will be dry before the week is out. I even have one guy stuck up in Preston because he made a delivery but could not get the fuel to get the motorcycle back."

While Mr Friery supports the principles of the demonstrators, every day that he is forced to leave his vehicles idle will cost him at least £5,000. But there is also the danger that he will lose business that will go elsewhere.

"What can I do if I have 30 idle vehicles and I still have to pay the wages?" he said. "Loss of sales will have a knock-on effect so it could affect jobs. For 26 years I have watched tax on fuel go up and up, which affects everyone. I understand the frustration but this sort of protest is more likely to squeeze small businesses than change the Government's tax plans. I am genuinely concerned for the future of my business, and the future of the 40 people I employ."

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