Opinion

Charlie Mullins: Fuel companies need to have more respect for business customers

5 min read

20 April 2015

It looks like it’s the turn of the big fuel companies to try to milk the supposed cash cow that is the business community.

Apparently, fuel retailers are charging motorists 6p a litre more for diesel than petrol even though they buy them for the same price.

Usually, the forecourt operators are seen as the innocent party when consumers and businesses complain about the cost of fuel, but, based on figures from the AA, it looks like the retailers are carving themselves out an increased margin on the back of the amount of diesel vehicles on the road.

More diesel vehicles are now sold than petrol ones, many of which will be for commercial use with the rest sold to the public when diesel was promoted as the cleaner fuel based on the levels of carbon dioxide emissions – but that’s another story for another day.

This means that diesel fuel sales last year totalled 27.9bn litres compared with 17.6bn litres of petrol – much of which will be down to business vehicles.

Of course, any business that moves its people, products and equipment around is affected by the ever fluctuating cost of fuel. Perhaps fluctuating isn’t quite the correct word, because for every minor price dip there is a lengthy period where costs go on the rise.

At Pimlico Plumbers, we operate a fleet of more than 250 vehicles with an annual fuel bill of around a million quid – the additional 6p a litre adding nearly 60 grand to our outlay.
However, these vehicles are essential to our business – after all, you can’t send a plumber and his tools to a job on the underground.

That doesn’t mean we don’t care about the environment, and we’re continually investing in the most efficient vehicles available that meet our requirements to minimise the impact we have on the planet.

But it’s a necessary requirement, and the more it costs the more danger there is that companies will end up passing on increases to customers.

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Of course, the motorist, both private and commercial, has been a good source of income for successive governments ever since the 1908 Finance Act introduced a tax on people filling up their Model T Fords.

It’s essential that, whoever ends up in Number 10 next month, they shouldn’t forget the arteries of commerce are kept flowing by Britain’s diesel-fuelled fleet of lorries, vans and cars that are transporting people, products, services and expertise around the country.

So, it makes it even more frustrating when the fuel companies squeeze even more out of the business community by charging more for diesel than petrol.

They really are cutting off their nose to spite their face. With the rise of things like internet shopping and grocery delivery alongside the traditional road haulage and man-in-a-van businesses, our roads are thriving with the sound of hydrocarbon-driven commerce.

Commercial fuel customers should be supported, not fleeced. The retailers may argue that the low oil price, which is squeezing petrol prices, is the reason for the gap, but to my mind it should create lower prices across the board.

When the oil price went into free fall a few months ago there was outrage that the drop hadn’t been passed onto motorists and soon after the prices on forecourt boards were a few pence lighter. However, while the oil price is still half what it was a year ago, prices at the pump have started to creep up again.

For an industry that always complains it’s unfairly treated, particularly by government, the fuel companies should have a greater respect for business customers – we’re the ones that keep the country moving.

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