Page last updated at 16:15 GMT, Tuesday, 27 May 2008 17:15 UK

'We can't keep running at these costs'

By Alexis Akwagyiram
BBC News

Jose Girvam (left) and Robert Lavender
Jose Girvam, left, said he blamed the prime minister for high fuel costs

In Marble Arch, central London, dozens of hauliers gathered to vent their frustrations about rising fuel prices.

The protesters, who were almost exclusively men, stood deep in conversation with each other.

Some held banners, but most simply wore sombre expressions and shook their heads while explaining their grievances to journalists.

Their anger stems from rising fuel costs, with diesel prices topping 120p a litre, in addition to the government's planned 2p fuel tax rise.

Summing up the palpable sense of frustration among the protesters, John Owen, 58, said: "We can't keep running at these costs. The government has to give us some kind of rebate."

Mr Owen, a haulier of 35 years, from Pant, in Shropshire, works for a quarry.

Describing a predicament he said was common among his fellow protesters, he said: "Every time the price of diesel goes up, the pinch increases. The quarry puts up its running costs, but don't pass it on to hauliers.

Small companies are going down because of this. They can't afford to pay the fuel bills

Martyn Whiffen-Bent

"We could be forced to give up. But I couldn't imagine doing anything else."

Similarly, Graham Horwood said: "We ask for a raise but don't get one because they can't afford to run the trucks. Everyone is trying to save money."

Martyn Whiffen-Bent, from Poole, in Dorset, predicted that their grievances would be felt financially by the wider public within months.

He said fuel costs would be passed on to the wider public because companies transporting food would have to charge their suppliers more, with consumers being charged more for food and other goods as a consequence.

"Fuel goes up, food goes up and wages stay the same," he said

"Small companies are going down because of this. They can't afford to pay the fuel bills."

These sentiments were echoed by Chris Parkinson, from Hanward, in Shrewsbury, who said hauliers performed an "essential" service for the UK.

Emlyn Hughes
Emlyn Hughes said fuel costs hamper competition with foreign hauliers

"Everything we buy is delivered by truck - everything, from food to cars," he said, adding that other firms, such as taxi firms and petrol stations, are also likely to struggle in the coming months.

A number of hauliers asked for help to compete with their rivals in mainland Europe, arguing that continental drivers do not pay such high fuel duties.

"There has to be a level playing field," said Emlyn Hughes, 65, from Shrewsbury, who said diesel prices in France, Germany and Belgium were "about 25p a litre cheaper than in the UK", leading to "unfair competition".

"They fill up on the continent, come here and don't have to fill up," said Mr Hughes, who regularly drives a 44 ton lorry to mainland Europe to bring cheese, vegetables and bread back to the UK.

He also pointed out that UK hauliers pay road tolls when they go to the continent, whereas their European competitors are not faced with such charges when they drive in the UK.

"There will definitely be job losses if this continues and we don't want anybody laid off," he said.

'Unfair' tax

And, echoing the frustrations expressed by others, he added: "We haven't had a rise for two years, but the cost of living is going up.

"I'm officially retired, but what I get from my pension isn't enough."

Many of the hauliers repeated similar concerns, urging the government to introduce a fuel rebate.

However, there was an acceptance from some that high fuel costs are a worldwide issue felt by all UK drivers.

"We don't mind paying a little more for petrol because it is in short supply, but the tax on the fuel is unfair," said David Roberts, 50, a self-employed haulier from Mold, in north Wales.

He said the introduction of a rebate for hauliers would "stop the inflationary process going on and on" for those who rely on fuel for their livelihood.

We have rising fuel taxes and jobs are looking insecure - I never asked for this fella to lead the country
Jose Girvam

Perhaps ominously for the government, some protesters argued that their grievances reflected an inability by ministers to handle economic problems.

Two such demonstrators were Jose Girvam, a 36, and his colleague Robert Lavender, 40, both of whom were from Ruislip, in west London.

They held a bright orange sign which simply read: "Out Brown."

Mr Girvam said the impact of fuel costs was the latest in a number of issues that had led him to conclude that he would change his lifelong habit of voting Labour and switch to the Conservatives in the next general election.

The haulier, who cited his decision to vote for Conservative Boris Johnson in the London mayoral contest as symptomatic of this change of heart, said he blamed the prime minister for high fuel costs, adding that it was "time for a change".

"I didn't vote for Brown, I voted for Blair. We have rising fuel taxes and jobs are looking insecure. I never asked for this fella to lead the country," Mr Girvam said.

"We're in a financial crisis now and he was the chancellor. He was the accountant, now he's the managing director and the company is going under. I can't see Brown turning it around."

Speculation over road tax rethink
27 May 08 |  UK Politics

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