It is not hard to understand why the clamour is growing for an investigation into alleged “profiteering” by fuel companies over the sale of heating oil, petrol and diesel.
The effect on people – in rural areas particularly – is acute. Anyone who has had to fill up the car in the countryside in the past few days will have been startled at the numbers displayed on the pumps.
Prices have gone from eye-watering to outrageous. Petrol and diesel costs in particular are now having a significantly detrimental impact on the rural economy and the quality of life of many people in rural areas.
It is not just the fuel companies and their manipulation of the prices charged in rural areas that need to be examined, important as that is. The time has surely come for a root and branch investigation into the pricing structure of this essential resource, including the tax we all pay every time we fill our fuel tanks.
It is that tax which helps put Britain into the top ten nations in Europe for the price of fuel. Oil is traded globally at prices set by the market, but it is the Government, not the oil companies, that determines the final price we all pay on the forecourt.
It is sobering to reflect that in the United States they pay the equivalent of under 60p a litre for vehicle fuel – and American motorists are up in arms about that. Here in Europe the range of prices charged for fuel goes from £1.64 a litre in Norway, the costliest European nation in which to fill up, down to £1.07 in Bulgaria, the cheapest, demonstrating that nations do have room for manoeuvre, it just takes the will to act.
The argument that high tax on fuel encourages drivers to cut down on car usage and, therefore, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, is no longer good enough to justify the tax level.
Few people drive more than they need to – the vast majority of us drive out of necessity – and the transportation of goods is, clearly, essential too. The argument that high levels of fuel duty are a vital boost to Treasury coffers is fast becoming redundant too. It must surely be of marginal benefit to the nation to be collecting all this tax when the damage high fuel prices do to the economy offset that benefit to such a degree.
We hope recent calls for an inquiry are taken up. But we hope also that it considers the unsustainable levels of taxation that we now pay on our fuel. Without fuel duty a litre would cost around 61p. Without VAT this would fall even further, to under 50p. If you are cursing today, as you fill up, it’s clear where your anger should be directed.