“Fuel duty will cripple us”

“We’re desperate and the government must realise that,” says Hockin, who started up his business, William C Hockin Transport, as a sole trader in 1974 and now turns over £3m transporting building materials across the country.

Despite the possibility of wildcat action and refinery blockades, the government has so far refused to scrap the 2p increase in fuel duty, which is planned for October. Further rises have been proposed for 2009 and 2010.

The soaring price of fuel is damaging smaller couriers and haulage firms, adding to supply and delivery costs.

“The government has got to get to grips with this situation before it spirals beyond control,” says Hockin, who runs 27 vehicles. “There is only so long I can ask my customers to pay more, before they will turn away.

"I have been in business for 40 years and this year is by far the worst I have ever known.”

The Forum of Private Business (FPB) has stepped in, putting pressure on the government to acknowledge that the hike in fuel prices is denting businesses.

“Small firms need help now, given the deteriorating economic climate,” says the FPB’s chief executive, Phil Orford. “The call for this unfair tax rise to be scrapped should be shouted from the rooftops.”

Fuel now constitutes 40 per cent of most firms’ vehicle operating costs.

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