Pump prices hit new high - and there’s worse to come

East Anglia's drivers face a winter of discontent, as pump prices hit record levels in parts of the region.

Increases in recent days have seen drivers paying up to 127.9p a litre for unleaded and 129.9p a litre for diesel.

Analysts blame the increase on a perfect storm of rising crude oil prices due to increased demand and a falling pound.

And experts last night warned there was worse to come, with January's VAT increase and a rise in fuel duty set to add at least another 3.5p to the price of a litre.

The planned increase, which comes into force on January 1, will see almost half the price of a litre going to the Government in tax.

At the beginning of this year unleaded petrol was around 116p a litre, while the official national average, set in May this year, stands at 121.61 for a litre of unleaded.

But several garages visited in an EDP snap survey yesterday were already charging more for fuel, with the most expensive being 127.9p (unleaded) and 129.9p (diesel), at the Jet garage in Hillington, near King's Lynn.

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Drivers in rural areas face paying more for their fuel because it costs more to transport to far-flung filling stations and there are less supermarkets to keep prices down.

'These rises have a knock-on effect which flies in the face of the Government's 'big society' because it ends up with services being centralised to urban areas as it becomes more expensive to take them out to the rural areas,' said Rik Martin, development manager at Norfolk Rural Community Council.

He added that the current round of price rises coincided with public sector funding cuts which could see transport subsidies for students aged 14 to 19 slashed while fuel costs rise – leaving rural parents hit with a double whammy.

The AA says motorists are being stung at the pumps while battling with freezing weather and treacherous driving conditions.

Petrol prices rose by 0.75p over the weekend, the sharpest increase since May 2008 and the trend is set to continue.

'It's something, unfortunately, we are all going to have to get used to and adapt to high fuel prices,' said AA spokesman Luke Bosdet.

'We would urge drivers to shop around as there are variations in prices at the pumps. If you have two cars and one is smaller then take the smaller one.'

The farming community has also been hit as the cost of hauling crops to processors and retailers rises with each penny going on diesel at the pumps. The price of red diesel, used off-road by farmers, has also risen and tops 50p a litre.

'Farmers are not in a position to pass the costs on. I think retailers will take the rises into account but rural communities are being hard hit,' said a spokesman for the National Farmers' Union.

Sugar beet growers, who took a fixed price for their crops earlier in the year, will also be feeling the pinch as the signigicant rise in fuel costs makes transporting the crop to processing plants, including Wissington, Cantley and Bury St Edmunds, much higher.

Self-employed garderner Andrew Kent, of Yaxley, near Eye in Suffolk, said the increases meant people were having to think twice before getting in their cars.

'I'm a self-employed gardener and every penny counts. You really have to think twice and some people just don't have a choice. You have to have a car,' he said.

Consumers are likely to be paying the bill as transportation costs continue to rise and the currenct increases could see the end for some HGV owner-drivers who are struggling to make a living.

'These increases just add insult to injury,' said Kate Gibbs, of the Road Haulage Association.

'Inevitably some owner-drivers will go down. It will be a less than happy Christmas for some and not a very prosperous New Year.

'We have heard from hauliers who are being put on 40-day payment, or even 90 days, and with fuel going up and the weather they have been facing it is getting more difficult.'