Thursday, September 6, 2012

Freight and Road Haulage Groups Speak Out On Fuel and Transport Issues

Industry Warms to Fuel Review but Concerned Over DfT Disruption
Shipping News Feature

UK – There was unconcealed pleasure from all sectors of the British freight industry yesterday when news of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) enquiry into fuel prices was revealed. The Road Haulage Association (RHA) was quick to issue a statement but celebrations were tinged with a note of caution as the British International Freight Association (BIFA) pointed out the hazards of changes at senior level within the Department for Transport (DfT) following the recent Government reshuffle.

The purpose of the OFT investigation is to discover why, when the price of a barrel of oil has fallen of late, hauliers and other motorists are paying record prices for diesel and petrol. The OFT will also examine whether there is a lack of competition between fuel retailers in some remote communities in the UK, and if concerns about price co-ordination and the structure of road fuels markets identified by other national competition authorities found during similar investigations in countries which include Germany, Spain and Australia, are relevant in the UK.

The OFT has come under increasing pressure from motoring organisations of late and says it will take a six week long look at why Britain is rapidly losing independent fuel suppliers unable to compete with supermarket prices at a time when, if critics are to be believed, profits are at record levels. RHA Chief Executive Geoff Dunning, said:

“Fuel pricing has always been a massive issue for the Association and its members. We are greatly encouraged that the OFT has recognised the concerns of the haulage industry and the general public and is preparing to take action. Diesel accounts for over a third of a haulier’s operating costs and between June 2007 and June 2012, diesel prices have risen by 43 per cent; a rise which will no doubt have a had a very significant depressing effect on the economy.”

The RHA is not alone of course in supporting the move but along with other organisations it has been critical in the past of Government policy regarding the imposition of what it sees as harsh levels of duty on diesel fuel as has of course BIFA. The freight association however was concerned however about what it views as a more general malaise typified by the recent reshuffle which sees the change at the top of the Dft as Britain witnessed the appointment of its third Transport Secretary in just over two years. BIFA Director General, Peter Quantrill is worried that Governments fail to take the Ministry’s responsibilities seriously, a tactical blunder in his view which has thus proved, and will continue to be, a very costly mistake. He commented:

“Whilst we wish Patrick McLoughlin and his new team every success, the fact we have had three transport secretaries in two years - the latest being one of more than 40 transport secretaries since the Second World War – says a great deal about the position which the Transport portfolio occupies in the thoughts of politicians.

“Government should not use the leadership of the DfT as a political football and should allow the Department to really focus on long-term solutions to the transport infrastructure issues which affect our members’ businesses activities. What we need is joined-up thinking on those many issues, including capacity concerns in the UK’s aviation industry, which is suggested as being behind this latest round of musical chairs.

“The lack of runway capacity at Heathrow is a limiting factor for our members who move airfreight through Heathrow. An additional runway would offer much needed capacity and also the resilience to maintain integrity of schedules when operational problems are encountered. In addition, the state of the UK road infrastructure must be at the forefront of government thinking. Congestion needs to be planned out of all modes of UK transport. UK ports and harbours also require strong support and strategic thinking.”