Ministers must respond as fuel prices soar inconsistently and harm the North - Jayne Dowle

I know it’s August and all that, but as war is raging on garage forecourts, can someone tell me who’s in charge?

The Government has clearly put up the out of office signs, because while motorists fume and supermarkets and retailers seem entirely at liberty to charge what they like for petrol and diesel, there’s no steer (pun intended) from Westminster at all.

I know, I know, it’s beyond their control. The industry regulates itself, through global supply and demand. But where does this leave the consumer?

Why can’t the Government at least appear to be on our side, especially given the perilous position it is in, with no useful PM as yet and backbenchers fuming with frustration.

The Government is not talking about the impact soaring fuel prices may have on the Northern economy, Jayne Dowle says. Picture: Hollie Adams/Getty Images

I’ve driven up and down the M1 to London this week – don’t judge me on my carbon footprint until you’ve seen the price of two return train tickets to the capital from Doncaster or Sheffield – for work and to take my daughter to the theatre. On the three-hour journey to Stanmore, where I leave the car courtesy of an online-sourced parking space, I had nothing much to do except think about driving. And obviously, the cost of driving.

And the fact that until recently, fortunate people with cars, vans and other vehicles took it for granted that they could get themselves from A to B without considering the fact that’s it now almost £100 to refuel an average-sized family car.

Finding the cheapest place to fill up was once a topic of conversation pretty much limited to men of a certain age – sorry dad – while the rest of us never gave it too much thought, unless claiming on expenses, a luxury unafforded to most. Can it only be a few months ago we were aghast at the prospect of petrol and diesel topping £2 a litre? And now, on the motorway at least, it’s commonplace.

Elsewhere however it’s a slightly different – and confusing and frustrating story. My Facebook feed is full of people travelling. Among the shots of sunsets and poolside fun, there are many comments about the steep differences in fuel prices. A cousin travelled down to Plymouth at the weekend to watch Barnsley FC lose 1-0 to Plymouth Argyle. He didn’t say much about the football, but he did note that unleaded was £1.74, which he pointed out was between 10p and 15p cheaper than in South Yorkshire.

As one of his friends commented – “where’s the levelling up?” And this is a very good point. Which is why I’m wondering who is in charge. And why senior politicians are avoiding talking about the elephant in the room; if people in our region and across the North of England find fuel unaffordable the situation will become so deleterious it will seriously damage the economy, which surely underpins any notion of levelling up. Indeed, the Government has been so quiet on the matter I had to look up the name of the minister responsible for fuel. It’s Greg Hands, Minster for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change, and MP for Chelsea and Fulham.

It’s fair to say that his understanding of the challenges facing people who live outside London, especially in rural areas where public transport is either limited or non-existent, is going to be scant.

Perhaps we are looking for support where there really is none. Meanwhile, retailers are – thankfully – beginning to cut prices at the pumps, but the situation is difficult to predict and still geographically-specific, meaning yet more stress for motorists.

On Tuesday, this newspaper reported that last week, Asda had cut a total of 9p per litre from petrol and 7p from diesel, with Sainsbury’s also making average forecourt reductions of 5p per litre in the wake of falling wholesale costs. Asda’s cuts brought its pump prices down to £1.74 a litre for petrol and £1.85 for diesel, well below the UK average.

As RAC fuel spokesman Simon Williams, points out: “This is good news for drivers as it will cause other retailers to reduce their prices, but it comes too late as the wholesale price of petrol has fallen significantly over the last seven weeks. This means hard-pressed motorists have been losing out while retailers enjoyed 20p a litre margins – far higher than normal.”

Meanwhile, oil executives have clearly not deserted their posts in high summer, because fuel producers including Shell and BP are posting record profits.

Also, worth mentioning – Centrica, the owner of British Gas, has reported a surge in profits too thanks to its North Sea oil and gas and nuclear businesses: figures released last week noted operating profits rose five-fold to £1.3bn.

Meanwhile, motorists (and homeowners) are left confused, frustrated and desperately counting the pennies. Allowing the energy market to regulate itself in the middle of this cost of living crisis, with no calling to account from Downing Street, is politically irresponsible, frankly. And it totally goes against every promise to level up and make life fairer for everyone in the UK.