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Petrol Protests may appear closer than you think

Greg Devine


Close up of 4 petrol pumps

It’s absolutely ridiculous how expensive fuel is currently. I used to pay around £45 for a full tank in my little 1.2L Seat Ibiza. The other day I filled up at a Sheffield city centre garage…it cost me more than £70.

The fuel station I visited wasn’t a particularly cheap one, but I’ve never been a fan of supermarket fuel, despite being told numerous times it’s the same stuff. It’s not; I get significantly fewer miles per gallon. That said, paying £1.88 for standard unleaded petrol is really taking the mickey, and clearly the majority of the general public agrees.

Fuel prices are escalating so fast that people are taking matters into their own hands. Protests are being arranged up and down the country, mostly via Facebook, in an attempt to bring the cost per litre down. These protests seem to follow a similar format, i.e. blocking up roads to everybody but the emergency services. One campaign gaining significant traction is Plymouth & Saltash’s Fuel Rebellion movement, which plans to block the Tamar Bridge. This is the main route out of Plymouth to the west, towards Cornwall; bringing traffic to a standstill during rush hour is bound to create an issue.

The group make some good points about the percentage of our money that goes on tax when we visit the pumps. If you spent £100 filling your tank, almost £50 of that is tax. £16.67 is VAT, £32.74 is fuel duty, £35.84 goes to the wholesaler, £9.71 is biofuel content, £3.92 goes to the retailer and £1.12 is delivery costs.

Just reading that boils my blood. We give so much through our tax obligations, but where do we see value for our money? Where does it get spent? Well, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, fuel duty makes up around 1% of our national income—to the tune of approximately £26.2 billion. That’s a huge amount of money, but where it goes is well hidden.

Does fuel duty go to the NHS? I doubt it, considering how underfunded the organisation is. Maybe it’s spent on roadworks, but looking at the state of our roads, I’m sure you’ll agree that they’re shockingly under-maintained despite the number of temporary traffic lights that blight our every journey. I’m not saying there should be no tax applied in the purchasing of fuel—the country needs income from every avenue to run effectively. Fuel duty, in my opinion, isn’t the real villain here, it’s the greedy oil companies.

Car refueling on a petrol station closeup

Car refueling on a petrol station closeup

We know Shell and BP made astronomical profits last year, so they’re clearly not struggling. We also know the price of a barrel of oil is relatively cheap at the moment, considering the situation between Russia and Ukraine, yet fuel companies are still charging high prices.

There’s no wonder protest groups are popping up all over social media. They seem to be taking inspiration from the fuel protests of the early 2000s, i.e. planning to drive slowly on motorways to hold up traffic. They also plan to block the entrances to fuel stations, to hit the companies where it hurts—in their pockets.

Protests, however, will not take place without a backlash. There were complaints across multiple Facebook groups that such action would only affect the public getting to where they need to be, such as to work; that, if they didn’t get there, they wouldn’t be paid. This is, of course, an issue at any time, but more so during a cost-of-living crisis. People simply can’t afford to not go to work, and any plans to block up roads and drive slowly on motorways is bound to cause problems. At what point does a protest cause actual damage to the oil companies? Is it just a case of sucking it up for a day for the greater good, or will it take more than this?

Kwasi Kwarteng, the UK’s Business Secretary, has urgently appealed to the competition watchdog to conduct a review into the fuel market, to explore whether consumers’ interests have been adversely affected. He also requested they investigate whether the government’s 5p fuel duty cut was passed onto customers.

It will be interesting to read the watchdog’s findings, to learn whether we’re having the wool pulled over our eyes or if fuel must cost what it does currently. With protests about to start across the country, will the Government step in? Would you be prepared to join protestors’ efforts to bring the cost of fuel down, or do you believe these campaigns will cause more harm than good?

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