Today in Parliament, with the FairFuelUK campaign, I am launching a new All-Party Parliamentary Group to look at the high cost of petrol. When the fuel protests broke out in the year 2000, we were worried about 80p per litre, and the damage it might do to our economy.
But now even the cheapest petrol station in my town is charging 133p per litre.
This means the average Harlow motorist spends £1,700 a year just to fill their tank. A tenth of the average Harlow income. The Government defines “Fuel Poverty” as spending more than a tenth of your income just to stay warm. But what about spending a tenth of your income just to drive to work?
Harlow families now pour at least £63 million of petrol into their cars and vans every year (of which about £40 million is tax). Not to mention gas and electricity bills, which are also spiralling out of control. That is the story of Harlow: a town held to ransom by petrol prices.
But across the country we see the same tragedy.
Despite the UK being a net exporter of petroleum products, and despite the fall in the international oil price, our petrol prices are still sky-high. Our Government is pro-growth and pro-business, but we need to do more.
I believe we must do three things:
1) Firstly, we need a fair fuel rebate, so that when the oil price falls, the big energy companies face a choice: Either cut prices, or the Government will impose a windfall tax on energy profits, and use the money to cut petrol prices anyway.
This would be a solution to the Great British Petrol rip-off, which saw the major energy firms announcing record profits in the first quarter of 2011.
The AA, RAC, and FairFuelUK have all said publicly, that if the 2p drop in the market cost of petrol had been passed on to motorists earlier this year, it would have wiped out most of the impact of the 2.5p VAT rise. That is why I have written to the big energy firms asking for price transparency.
2) We must commit to no more petrol tax rises in this Parliament.
George Osborne has already cut fuel duty by 1p and scrapped Labour’s fuel duty escalator. He has also delayed inflationary rises by a year. But I would ask him to go further, and look at abolishing even the inflationary rises.
3) We must establish a Commission to look at radical ideas, and other ways for the Government to raise revenue, to address the unfairness where UK fuel duty is so out of line with the rest of Europe.
For example, we must look at more toll roads in exchange for significant cuts in fuel duty, and how a fuel price stabiliser could work in practice.
Above all, we must be on the side of striving people. Environmentalism must not become a luxury for the rich, with no substantive answers, other than regressive taxes on energy. It is very easy for the wealthy to insist that the poorest families should pay more in petrol taxes and utility bills.
And to those who talk about the VAT rise in January, I say that Harlow motorists are actually £1 million better off now, than they would have been under Labour, thanks to our cuts to fuel duty and scrapping the tax escalator.
But as it stands, motorists are still being fleeced. For the sake of future growth and jobs, we urgently need reform.