Oil speculators are being blamed for a fresh round of steep petrol price rises that are set to hit already struggling motorists in the West Country.
Rural communities that are finding life far more expensive than their urban counterparts are once more most likely to feel the worst of the price hike.
The forecast 4p per litre price increases have been blamed largely on City speculators, though retailers have been accused of failing to pass on recent price cuts to motorists.
Community watchdogs and charities have warned that the rise will push up the costs of agencies helping some of the most vulnerable, and put pressure on families already struggling to live on benefits.
The rises are forecast by the Petrol Retailers Association which says wholesale prices have risen by five pence a litre since Christmas. And it warned that speculation by traders in the wholesale market could be responsible.
Brian Madderson, chairman of the PRA, said: “Independent retailers have been soaking up this increase at the expense of already tight margins because they know how hard the motorist is squeezed. But the floodgates will have to open soon.”
However the AA, which forecast a small rise of about 2.5 pence a litre, accused the industry of failing to pass on recent falls in wholesale prices to motorists as quickly as increases. It said retailers had failed to fully pass on a 2p fall in diesel wholesale costs in November and December, that with VAT were worth 2.5p at the pump. The association accepted the fact but said it was due to the “horrendous” summer.
ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England) says inflation in rural areas is already twice the national average, with communities having to contend with higher prices for everyday goods and soaring fuel costs. The charity says families living and working in rural areas will be hardest hit by the Government’s plans to cap benefit increases. It is calling on the Government to consider the impact of benefit cuts on struggling rural families.
Last night, Justin Sargent, chief executive of Somerset Community Foundation, said the predicted fuel rises were “another premium on living in a rural area, which for the majority of people is a pleasant place, but for people on the lowest incomes, and the elderly on fixed incomes, the rise in cost is disproportionate.”
ACRE found weekly spending by rural households was £50 higher, with rural families far more likely to need to bear the costs of a car.
According to the Petrol Retail Association’s latest figures, petrol was selling for 132.83 pence a litre and diesel 140.4 pence.
The Office of Fair Trading will decide next week whether to launch an investigation in to the fuel market.
Edmund King, the AA’s president, said: “Another new year, another new round of pump price rises after the industry failed to pass on fully wholesale price savings.
“Wholesale petrol prices turned upward in the first week of January, average pump prices six days later. If falls in wholesale were reflected as quickly, no one would mind – but they’re not.”
Mr Madderson said: “We cannot explain to our customers why the wholesale price is going up so much – it is not due to Government tax, it is not due to Brent crude going up and it is not due to the weak currency exchange. So are traders, bankers or speculators taking British motorists for a ride?
“Motorists will understand that, in this winter weather, demand for petrol in this country has been at a low ebb. If there is no massive demand, why have wholesale costs been ramped up by nearly 5p a litre? We do not understand it – yet once again we are going to be accused of profiteering at the pumps when that is simply not true.”
He called on the OFT to launch an investigation in to the wholesale market.