Do your duty, Darling

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We may have seen it coming since the Budget in March, but the 2p/litre rise in fuel duty that came into force in early October has still gone down like a lead balloon with private motorists and commercial vehicle operators alike – and if the government expected anything else, it must have been mad.

It’s no good trying to soften the blow by pointing out that UK motorists have enjoyed a freeze in fuel duty for the last couple of years, because the simple fact of the matter is that, freeze or no freeze, UK vehicle operators continue to pay way above the odds on fuel duty, at over 50 pence per litre compared to a European average of under 23 pence, according to figures from the Freight Transport Association. And as if that weren’t bad enough, there’s another 2p/litre rise planned for next April.

Given that the world price of oil is also at near-record levels, you can’t help but wonder why Alistair Darling and his chums felt it appropriate to be penalising the UK vehicle operator with even higher taxes at this time.

It’s just conceivable, perhaps, that some private motorists will start using their vehicles more judiciously as a result of these ever-rising costs, providing some crumb of environmental comfort from the increase. Frankly, however, we doubt it. What’s absolutely clear, on the other hand, is that distribution vehicle operators will continue to deploy their vehicles exactly the same way they did before the latest increase in duty because they simply don’t have any choice about whether or not to be on the road – the goods still have to get to the shops, after all.

Sensible vehicle operators, of course, will already be working out how to pass the added costs of fuel from October onwards on to their customers. And those customers, in turn, will probably pass those extra costs on to the end consumer.

All well and good, some might say. But set against current fears of recession and the background of a recent survey suggesting that consumers’ spending money is already at its lowest level for the last 10 years thanks to… you guessed it… higher tax bills and the rising cost of essentials like food and fuel, this latest rise makes little sense on any level.

If it’s really sound financial sense, just when we’re trying to avoid an economic downturn, for the Treasury to be hitting millions of citizens twice over on fuel duty – once on the fuel they use themselves, a second time in the inflated prices they will soon have to pay for goods – then frankly, I’m a cucumber.

Leaving aside the economic arguments, however, it’s clearly time that the UK government stopped ripping us all off on fuel and brought UK fuel duty into line with that in other EU member states.

Nobody really expects them to go that far, of course… but it isn’t, surely, impossible for them to do a U-turn on the planned 2p/litre increase planned for next April. So come on, Darling, do your duty by bringing ours a bit further into line with the rest of Europe… before you drive the UK economy firmly into the ground and kick-start the very economic downturn you’re trying to avoid.

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