The motoring and road-haulage lobbies mounted a vociferous attack on the steepest increases for years in taxes on fuel for cars and trucks.
The planned increases come after years when the government regularly postponed or cancelled fuel duty increases because rising oil prices were making it politically difficult to do more to increase motoring costs.
But crude oil prices are now just under $50 a barrel, barely a third of the $147 record high hit in July. While pledging to monitor fuel prices, Alistair Darling, chancellor, said fuel duty would be increased by 2p per litre from September this year, with a further 1p per litre increase to come every April from 2010 to 2013. Fuel duty, which went up 1p per litre on April 1, is 54.19p per litre at present.
The moves were being made to “contribute towards the consolidation of the public finances”, he said. They were also intended to cut carbon emissions. The increases would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 2m tonnes annually by 2013-14, Mr Darling added.
The Freight Transport Association, the haulage industry lobby group, said the increase could kill parts of the struggling sector. The group had argued strongly for the duty increase to be postponed, as happened during the ramp-up in oil prices.
James Hookham, FTA policy director, said the number of insolvencies among logistics companies had almost doubled in the past year, while the number of heavy goods vehicle drivers looking for work had quadrupled.
“What more evidence does the government need that parts of the sector are on their knees?” he said.
There were also attacks from the Automobile Association and RAC Foundation, the motoring lobby groups.
Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said Mr Darling was wrongly assuming motorists could easily afford the extra taxes. Research for the foundation had found the old and poor were increasingly heavy car users, he said.
Fuel taxes have been a sensitive issue since the mass fuel duty protests of autumn 2000 forced the government to abandon the “fuel duty escalator”, a regular programme of fuel duty increases above inflation, intended to reduce emissions from cars. Increases have been far more moderate since then.
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