In northern Virginia I’m seeing less Hummers on the road this summer. The pick-up trucks and SUVs are still there, but they are frequently V6 and not V8 and sporting the oxymoronic “Hybrid” badge. As ‘gas’ tops $4 for a US Gallon (roughly two pounds for 4 liters) everybody in the office starts talking about how they are modifying their driving habits, or commuting in the smaller car to save money this summer. These leaps in price seem steep, especially when I consider that when I first visited in 1996 I could buy a gallon of gas for $1, yes ONE DOLLAR, but this leap in cost is even more noticeable when I return home to England.
The average British motorist now pays about $3600 in car related tax per year, an increase of 50% since Labour came to power. The average tank of petrol now costs 70% more than it did 2 years ago, and diesel has suffered an even great rise pushing up the prices of delivered goods and carrying a knock-on effect into everybody’s weekly shop. As lorry drivers protested in London yesterday I wondered what difference any deal with them would make to the average man on the street, since I can see the supermarkets taking a bigger profit over lowering fuel-laden prices, and the daily commute of the countries workers won’t change overnight unless we start commuting via road freight. This isn’t an issue for one industry or one group to be concerned about, this is an issue that touches the lives of everybody in Great Britain…unless of course you live in a self-sufficient hovel with no electricity, plumbing, or contact with the outside world!
So what is the answer? Unfortunately the current government has borrowed so heavily that it needs all those stealth taxes on fuel and driving to try and make the payments, so I don’t think we’ll see a drop in the fuel duty. We might see yet another U-turn over August’s 2 pence extra duty on fuel but that would be a shallow gesture of the “we’re not giving anything back, just not taking as much as we threatened to” variety.
If the government is to blind and hampered to move, then maybe the fuel producers themselves could act? Unlikely, when high prices mean high profits and happy shareholders. The closing forecourts are a symbol of the small businesses that suffer under the larger corporations, but BP and Shell both posted record figures. Money aside, is the oil there to be pumped? OPEC is cautious, and even if they did increase their delivery would they be able to supply it when so many of their members are using oil for political ends in their own region. Global instability makes the market nervous, and speculators take a nervous market and get rich…
Ah, the ‘futures’ speculators, could they be driving the problem home by gambling on ever increasing oil? I remember not to long ago that a trader was vilified for pushing oil over the ‘critical’ $100 per barrel price and yet here we are a few months later and governments have still not acted to reign in the wild price rises, even when the impact on the global economy is widely reported.
I digress however, my concern was clsoer to home, and so if you’re interested in reading what got me started on this little rant, take a few minutes to read “The end of the road for British motorists” in The Telegraph, and take a look at their “Fair Deal for Car Drivers” campaign.