Page last updated at 17:17 GMT, Wednesday, 28 May 2008 18:17 UK

Fuel bills are 'burden' on firms

Fuel price sign in Lerwick
Diesel prices have topped 1.40 a litre in Lerwick

Rising fuel costs are placing an intolerable burden on business, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce has said.

Its chief executive Liz Cameron spoke as a Holyrood debate heard called for a fuel price regulator and help for Scotland's rural areas.

The SNP's Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan, who brought the member's debate said rural businesses were at risk.

The calls came as the prime minister urged oil industry leaders to come up with ideas for improving supplies.

Gordon Brown and Chancellor Alistair Darling were asking industry leaders in north east Scotland what help they would need from the government - such as investment in new infrastructure or oil exploration.

'Global problem'

Mr Brown said: "This is not just a national problem. It is a global problem of supply and demand, not just in the short-term but the medium-term and the long-term.

"Therefore what your ideas and insights are, to contribute to getting the right balance between supply and demand, is going to be very useful to us."

Meanwhile, First Minister Alex Salmond challenged Mr Brown to spell out how Scotland would benefit from the extra revenues generated by high oil prices.

The SNP estimated that the UK Treasury would receive an additional 4bn from North Sea oil production this year.

Ms Cameron, of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said high fuel prices were being felt especially hard in remote and rural areas of Scotland - particularly in island communities.

She said the price of diesel in particular had become a "serious concern".

Ms Cameron said: "High diesel prices are having a detrimental effect not just on Scottish hauliers and the logistics sector but also directly and indirectly on almost every business the length and breadth of the country.

"Rising fuel and transportation costs are placing an intolerable burden on many businesses."

The two main UK fishermen's federations have joined forces to press for immediate government action on fuel prices to ensure "the viability of the fishing fleet".

The Scottish Fishermen's Federation and the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations have called for assistance of the kind being given to French and Spanish fleets.

Mr Allan's Holyrood motion was backed by SNP MSPs and a number of Liberal Democrats, including former transport minister Tavish Scott.

Mr Allan said: "While the Treasury makes millions from soaring revenues more and more businessmen, farmers, fishermen and families are finding themselves out of pocket."

On Tuesday, hundreds of lorry drivers, including some from Scotland, protested in London and along the M4 in Wales.

'Poverty exacerbated'

SNP politicians said they were keen to see the UK Government abandon the planned 2p rise in fuel duty.

They also want an application to be made to Europe asking for permission to cut fuel duty in rural areas and to see the introduction of a fuel price regulator.

There will be further pressure on Westminster if Highland Council agrees to write to the chancellor expressing its concern about increasing fuel prices on the Highland economy and council services.

The authority's transport environmental and community services committee will debate the issue on Thursday.

The council has revealed that in the current financial year it expects to face an increased fuel bill of 725,000.

Councillor John Laing said: "Increased fuel prices will affect individual families - and households in rural areas are more likely to experience fuel poverty which is exacerbated by rising energy costs, and in particular oil prices."

Meanwhile, in the Scottish Borders the rise in fuel prices has had an impact on taxi fares.

The traffic commissioner has ruled that due to increasing costs there should be a 7% rise in minimum fares almost double the 3.9% originally proposed by the local council.

Fuel costs prompt taxi fare rise
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