Truckers plan fuel protest over prices

Sarah Brealey East Anglia reeled from a flurry of retail price blows last night as food and fuel costs continued to soar - leaving thousands of people struggling to make ends meet.

Sarah Brealey

East Anglia reeled from a flurry of retail price blows last night as food and fuel costs continued to soar - leaving thousands of people struggling to make ends meet.

A survey showed food prices up by 4.7pc last month compared to a year ago as shops passed on the rocketing costs of commodities including rice, wheat and corn.

And the region's hauliers threatened to fight back against the cost of diesel and petrol by staging a rush-hour go-slow that could bring traffic on the A47 grinding to a halt on Monday.

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The BRC-Neilsen Shop Price Index showed food prices increased by their highest annual rate since the study began 18 months ago.

But the British Retail Consortium (BRC), which helped compile the monthly data, said that shops had sheltered consumers from far higher “farm gate” rises, with the cost of rice rising by 72pc and corn by 29pc in the last 12 months.

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There could be some relief tomorrow when the Bank of England's monetary policy committee announces whether it will cut interest rates from 5pc.

But there was further bad news as it was revealed that more than one in four mortgage lenders had failed to pass on April's interest rate cut to borrowers.

Fuel costs, which have steepled to almost £1.11 a litre for unleaded petrol and £1.21 for diesel, have provoked growing disquiet in recent months.

Gary Cooper, who is organising the go-slow, said the prices were “crippling” everyone, from hauliers to people with small cars.

He said: “It has risen by 30pc since Christmas. Fuel companies making £7bn in three month left a bad taste in the mouth. People are really, really hurting.

“I will be disappointed if we do not see over 500 trucks on the A47. The prices are crippling people. It's like a cancer and it is destroying us.”

Mr Cooper, who runs Gary Cooper Paving at Wymondham, has contacted hundreds of hauliers, taxi firms, bus companies, couriers and farmers to encourage them to join the go-slow wherever they operate.

It is not yet known how many road users will rally to the cause, as they did during the fuel price protests in 2000.

Police have been informed, and a spokesman said there were “contingency plans” in place to deal with demonstrations.

Feelings are clearly running high across the region.

Colin Storey, of C and C Storey Haulage at Felbrigg near Cromer, said: “I believe businesses are going to have to lay folk off. Business is just not viable.”

He said he was not sure if a protest would “make any difference”. He said: “I don't think the government would take any notice.”

Andy Dunn, transport manager at JW Buxton Haulage at North Walsham, said the increases were “devastating” and added that businesses were already going under.

And Andrew Jarvis, of Andrew Jarvis Transport at Bintree near Dereham, said: “I certainly support the protest in spirit but won't be able to support it physically.

“In the last five years things have gone downhill. English hauliers have to pay a daily tax for driving in Europe, but European hauliers pay nothing to use our roads.

“We should be given an essential user rebate on fuel. Our industry keeps the country going.”

Pete Butler, Road Haulage Association (RHA) senior area manager for the south and east, said every penny on a litre of fuel cost £15,000 per year to the average haulier.

He said: “There's quite a strong feeling in the industry. But it's not really the government that is driving up prices, it's the world economic climate.”

Luke Bosdet, spokesman for the Automobile Association, said any protest would get “some sympathy” from people in rural areas, who were “under siege” from rising fuel costs.

But he added: “Spreading the misery to other motorists by blocking roads doesn't really work. Our advice is that people should contact their MPs to lobby the government to do something about fuel tax.”

The current tax rate on a litre of unleaded fuel is 50.35p. When VAT is added, it means the government take per litre is almost 67p.

The government is under pressure to scrap a planned 2p rise in petrol duty, which is due to come into effect in October.

The BRC said rising food costs were being counteracted by falls in the cost of non-food items.

Competition in areas such as electrical goods - 5pc cheaper than a year ago - brought price tags down, while shops were also discounting to combat a consumer spending slowdown.

Stephen Robertson, director general of the BRC, said: “Retailers are succeeding at protecting customers from the full force of increasing commodity, energy and transport costs by absorbing most of those increases themselves, even when it's at the expense of their own margins. There is no doubt food prices would be much higher if it wasn't for retailers' efforts to contain them.”

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