How fuel crisis is a ‘de facto lockdown’ for hard-up families in towns like Barnsley and why Rishi Sunak must act in Spring Statement – Jayne Dowle

I WAS laid low with Covid last week and haven’t been out and about, but this hasn’t stopped me worrying about the rising cost of fuel.

Last time I filled up the tank of my modest family runabout Kia Sportage (still diesel, I’m afraid, but until the Government makes electric car ownership more affordable it’s going to have to solider on, belching out pollutants), I put in my usual 
top-up to the value of £50 and didn’t think much about it.

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When I returned to the car, I looked at the fuel gauge and then looked again. It was barely 
half full. My maths might not be quite sharp enough to work out exactly how fuel cost rises are going to impact on the weekly household budget but there’s nothing wrong with my eyes.

What should Chancellor Rishi Sunak do over fuel prices in the Spring Statement? Columnist Jayne Dowle poses the question.

The RAC said unleaded petrol hit a new high of 165.4p a litre last Wednesday, which is up by around 14p a litre in around two weeks.

The figure for diesel is up by around 21p a litre over the same period to 176.76p. There are also – inevitably – reports from some rural areas of independent garages racking prices up to more than £1.80 a litre.

However, I must admit it’s not been something I’ve given too much thought to as I don’t have to drive long distances for work every day – unlike thousands of people who face a “de facto lockdown”, as senior Conservative MP Robert Halfon warned, if prices are allowed to carry on climbing unfettered.

That’s why I’m worried. Speaking at Transport Questions in the House of Commons last week, Mr Halfon, chair of Parliament’s cross-party Education Committee, said we were facing a situation “where parents can’t afford to take their kids to school, where workers can’t afford to commute by car and have to stay at home”.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is preparing to deliver his Spring Statement.

For his part, Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, said he would speak to Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

However, it was clear he was not only ducking the issue but passing the buck and 
patronising hard-working British people all at the same time – quite a feat, even for the man who has decided to lift all overseas travel restrictions, despite rising Covid cases in almost all areas of the UK.

“After 12 years of fuel [duty] freeze, the average family has saved something like £2,000 as a direct result of his [Halfon’s] excellent campaigning,” said Shapps.

“I will have further conversations, of course, with my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but it will be for him to decide on the next measures.”

What should Chancellor Rishi Sunak do over fuel prices in the Spring Statement? Columnist Jayne Dowle poses the question.

Am I right then? We have no choice but to wait for an out-of-touch Government to realise and accept that ordinary people’s lives are stalling fast?

I must admit I’m not holding out much hope, especially as VAT on fuel gives the Treasury a colossal boost to its depleted coffers.

Last year Shapps famously said: “Everybody will have to be driving electric in 2030.” That’s less than eight years away and the average cost of a new EV is £44,000.

Does he really think millions of us can stump up that kind of cash from down the back of the sofa or take on expensive loans and HP schemes in the middle of an economic downturn and with interest rates on the rise?

As one acquaintance, who lives in a North Yorkshire village without a public EV-charging point said to me last week, the problem is that for the last 100 years we’ve been used to turning up at the pump, filling up and driving off.

Back on the garage forecourt, I sighed with resignation and drove home, thinking about the so-called staycation boom.

The cost of fuel impacts on us personally, as families as part of the workforce and across all aspects of the economy – and not just the obvious sectors, such as road haulage and logistics.

What hope for the recovering British tourism industry if, pretty soon, it will be cheaper for holidaymakers to hop on a plane at Leeds Bradford or Doncaster Sheffield airports and fly to Spain, instead of driving to North Yorkshire?

I’ll certainly be looking at any long-distance UK travel plans with a very close budgetary eye these coming months.

If the Government doesn’t feel inclined to help us as individuals then surely it should listen to the concerns of businesses – and its own backbenchers.

Tory MP Jake Berry, chair of the Northern Research Group of Conservatives, urges Mr Sunak to cut fuel duty, increase business mileage rates from 45p to 60p and give a 15 per cent discount to “vital fuel users” such as haulage companies.

So far, no dice. And if this continues, no cars on the roads.

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