Push for fairer fuel prices

PRESsURE is mounting across the region for the Government to take the heat out of rising fuel prices.

Farmers representatives, mot-orists and politicians are all calling on Chancellor George Osborne to establish a fuel duty regulator, to reduce the duty paid on fuel when oil prices rise.

And variable fuel duty rates are also being called for so motorists in rural areas are no longer penalised by higher pump prices than city drivers. However, this would require clearance from the EU first.

After Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney wrote to the UK Chancellor demanding action to tackle rising fuel prices, NFU Scotland added their voice to the call that the Westminster Government scrap plans to increase fuel duty in April.

NFU Scotland president Jim McLaren said: “This isn’t about farmers, it is about improving the well-being of Scotland’s rural economy.

“The creation of a fair fuel stabiliser to regulate returns from fuel duty as oil prices increase would make a major difference to small businesses and rural populations. A stabiliser was on the radar of some politicians when they were in opposition and who are now in Government, giving them the opportunity to deliver on a policy that they know will make a real difference to families and businesses at this time.

“Similarly, Government has raised the prospect of a trial in rural areas of a reduced rate of fuel duty to recognise the higher fuel prices found in more remote parts. The use of measures to reduce fuel taxation in remote rural areas, such as those already used by France, Portugal or Greece, would be hugely beneficial.

“Such immediate action on fuel prices is totally justifiable as transport sits at the centre of the whole rural economy. The fact that our diesel prices are now amongst the highest in Europe is undermining the efficiency and competitiveness of our whole food chain and if that is not addressed it will damage these areas in the long term.

“The Government also needs to reconsider the substantial rise in the band K vehicle excise duty rate.

‘‘The weather endured during December has simply emphasised the important role that four-wheel drive vehicles play if farmers and rural dwellers are to continue to function during poor weather. Many farm businesses are simply not able to purchase a vehicle that has lower carbon dioxide emissions and still be able to do the job required of it around the farm. This winter has shown that 4x4s on farms are not luxury items but essential, working vehicles.”

Borders MP and Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Moore, responded: “I understand people’s concerns regarding current fuel prices, especially in rural areas like the Borders where we are seeing prices as high as £1.40 per litre of fuel. Labour’s huge financial deficit which they left behind has meant that the Coalition Government is unable to reduce the tax on fuel, without having to make further cuts elsewhere.

“However, as the Prime Minister and treasury ministers have said, the Government is committed to looking into measures to help with fuel costs in rural areas and the Government will announce decisions as quickly as possible.”

In October last year, South of Scotland List MSP Christine Grahame (SNP) called for the scheme to cut fuel duty by 5p per litre being piloted in other rural areas to be extended to the Borders. And she also launched a petition to secure changes that would see Borderers paying the same for fuel as the rest of the UK.

Ms Grahame said this week: “The pain from the Liberal and Tory led cuts is really beginning to bite locally in the Scottish Borders. Rises in VAT and other taxes introduced along with record cuts to the Scottish budget are resulting in poorer services and families and hard-working people having to make ends meet.

“In rural communities like the Scottish Borders the pain is felt all the more acutely due to poorer average wages and the higher costs associated with transport. Real help is urgently needed.”