Sunderland hauliers, taxi drivers and driving instructors plead for Government support as petrol prices rocket

Struggling hauliers, taxi drivers and driving instructors have been reacting to the continued spiraling cost of petrol and diesel as they’ve pleaded with the Government to do more to help businesses survive.

This week has seen record-breaking prices across the region’s pumps with average diesel prices soaring to £1.76 per litre with petrol coming in at £1.65.

Less than two years ago the cost of petrol fell to just over £1 per litre, driven by reduction in demand as a result of the Covid lockdown.

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The global price of crude oil was already on the rise and has been compounded by the conflict between Russia and Ukraine which has created massive instability in the industry with fears Russia, the European Union's biggest oil trading partner, could retaliate to sanctions by restricting its oil pipeline supplies to Europe, creating a reduction in supply and pushing up demand.

MGW Transport manager Graham Welsh has said the current rise in diesel and petrol prices is unsustainable for the haulage industry.

The USA and Canada have banned buying Russian oil which means demand for oil from other producers has increased, also leading to higher prices.

Whatever the reason, local business owners whose profitability depends on petrol and diesel, have said the situation is “unsustainable” and prolonged inflation will “make it difficult to survive”.

While global market forces and the conflict in Ukraine are beyond the Government’s control, with a current fuel duty taxation of 57.95 pence per litre in addition to the standard 20 per cent VAT, a significant proportion of the price being paid at the pumps is taxation.

It’s a situation which has led to local taxi drivers, driving instructors and hauliers to implore the Government to do more to help them survive – including a temporary reduction on petrol duty and taxation.

Seaham Express Light Haulage owner John Adams feels the Government needs to do more to support businesses in the haulage industry struggling with the soaring cost of petrol and diesel.

Here’s what they had to say.

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Seaham Express Light Haulage owner, John Adams, 64, has decided he can’t take on long-distance contracts until the price of diesel falls.

John, who delivers building materials, said: “The cost of fuel is absolutely crippling and is just not sustainable. There’s a real fear some companies will go under and won’t survive.

Driving instructor, Vikki Holt, has "reluctantly" had to pass on the increased cost of fuel to her customers. Vikki is pictured taking a part in a protest last month against the potential closure of South Shields driving test centre.
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“I’ve just returned from a job to Devon and a trip which would normally cost me £150 in diesel cost £280. I’d already made a commitment to this job but I’ve decided not to do anymore long-distance jobs as it’s simply not profitable.

"I can survive for a few months but the Government need to do more. Transport keeps the country going and I feel like the haulage industry has been let down – they seem to have provided support everywhere else.”

Even if the cost of oil does decrease, John is concerned it won’t be passed on to the customer.

He added: “If people keep paying it – even if it’s eating into their savings – then I don’t think the price will ever return to where it was.”

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Sainsbury's Petrol station in Washington is normally one of the cheapest places for petrol and diesel but has also seen a massive increase in prices. Picture by FRANK REID.

John’s concerns are echoed by fellow haulier Graham Welsh, 60, whose family owns MGW Haulage Ltd in Sunderland.

Graham said: “The cost of filling our vehicles with diesel is normally around £4,500 per week and this has risen to £5,500 which is simply unsustainable. We’ve a loyal customer base but I do think the Government should reduce the level of taxation to help companies out.

"The Government need to listen to people’s concerns. French hauliers have been protesting and blocking roads over the rising cost of fuel and this is something I would be willing to join other lorry drivers in doing if we don’t feel we are being listened to.”

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Graham also feels the spiraling cost of petrol and diesel has led to “a massive increase” in fuel theft – something which his own company has suffered.

Peter Phelan, who owns Phelan Haulage and Hiab Hire in Washington, has also called for greater support.

He said: “My diesel costs have increased by around 20 per cent in the last four weeks and I think a lot of haulage businesses are going to run into big problems.

Esso Petrol station in Concord Washington. Picture by FRANK REID.
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"I think the Government could do more to reduce the duty on fuel to help reduce costs.”

Taxi Drivers

The region’s taxi drivers have also seen a big impact of rising petrol and diesel costs, something which led to John Kenny, who owns John’s Taxis in Houghton, to look to downsize his vehicle.

John, 62, said: “The cost for me fill my car has increased by £40 in just six weeks – it’s terrible. I also own an eight seat minibus and I’m having to look to down-size to something smaller as I can’t afford to run it anymore.

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"At the moment I’m having to absorb the costs but I’m no longer doing any long-distance runs to places like Manchester Airport as it’s not profitable. The Government needs to do more to help small businesses.”

Driving Instructor

Vikki Holt, who owns Top Gun Driving School, has been “left with no choice” but to pass on the additional fuel costs to the customer.

She said: “Each time I fill my tank is costing me £15 more which works out around £180 per month. I normally charge £27 for a lesson but from April 1, this is going up to £30. I’m reluctant to put my prices up but it’s a needs must situation.

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"It will be difficult for some driving schools to survive if we don’t get support from the Government. I read last week there had been a reduction in the price of oil but there has been no sign of this being passed on to the customer.”

In response, an HM Treasury spokesperson said: “To keep costs down, fuel duty has been frozen for the twelfth year in a row, which will save drivers around £15 every time they fill their tank compared to pre-2010 plans.

“We’re providing around £21 billion this financial year and next to help families, which includes cutting the Universal Credit taper rate, freezing alcohol duty, and helping households with their energy bills through our £9.1 billion rebate.”

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The BP Petrol station on the A1231 in Sunderland has also been hit by the inflation in oil prices. Picture by FRANK REID.