Belfast Telegraph

A long road ahead for transport sector

Hikes at the pumps taking toll, says boss

By Clare Weir

The haulage industry is "on its knees" thanks to sky-high fuel prices, according to the boss of a Co Down company.

Colin Baird, director of Baird Haulage in Banbridge, said he was surprised that a new Office of Fair Trading report said that competition is "working well" in the UK road fuel market.

The OFT said that rises in pump prices over the past decade are largely due to increases in tax and the cost of crude oil.

The report found "very limited evidence" that pump prices rise quickly when the wholesale price goes up but fall more slowly when it drops.

The OFT called for information on the UK road fuel sector in September last year to determine whether there were competition problems that need to be addressed before investigating concerns over the prices charged for petrol and diesel at the pumps.

Campaigners had called for the watchdog to announce a full investigation into the sector, saying there needs to be greater scrutiny.

But the OFT said that the UK had some of the cheapest pre-tax road fuel prices in Europe, noting that in the 10 years to 2012, pump prices rose from 76 pence per litre (ppl) to 136ppl for petrol, and from 78ppl to 142ppl for diesel, caused largely by an increase of nearly 24ppl in tax and duty and 33ppl in the cost of crude oil.

But Mr Baird said that those carrying out the report "had not spoken to the man on the street".

Colin's father William Baird started out with a single Albion truck over 40 years ago and the family-run Baird fleet now has Volvo, DAF and Scania trucks travelling to the UK and Belgium, Holland, France and Germany.

Mr Baird said many companies face going to the wall and that many are forced to fill up in the Republic where diesel is cheaper.

"Getting it hard is not the word, the haulage industry is on its knees and nobody seems to care," he said.

"We're in a downturn and the price of fuel is far too high. I'm very surprised at these findings; whoever carried out this report did not speak to the man on the street. We employ 25 people, we have 21 vehicles going all over the UK and Europe and the fuel prices are much worse in the UK.

"It is impacting on custom and it is impacting on investment in new equipment, we just can't afford it when all the money we have is going on wages and fuel."

Last year, the Assembly said that Northern Ireland should benefit from a fuel duty relief scheme currently helping motorists in parts of Scotland. Northern Ireland is already burdened by some of the dearest petrol and diesel in Europe.

The Road Haulage Association and its partners FairFuelUK have urged the government to come up with long-term plans that avoid hitting businesses too hard with fuel tax hikes in the midst of harsh economic conditions, and to give motorists a clear idea of what to expect from fuel tax policy.

Willie Oliver, a Coleraine-based director of the Road Haulage Association, said that competition among the larger supermarkets has knock-on benefits for other retailers as well as motorists.

"Certain areas have it better than others," he said.

"In Coleraine you have Sainsburys and Asda knocking the hell out of each other over fuel prices and it makes it easier for the other fuel retailers as they are able to keep prices down with that sort of competition," he said.

"In somewhere like Dungannon or Cookstown, it is a bit harder."