HIRERS are lobbying furiously to stop the Government taking away their right to use discounted red diesel on cranes and other road-going plant.
Hirers have warned that axing the discount, which saves 47p on every litre of fuel, would effectively treble fuel costs, costing the industry millions of pounds - and could put smaller hire companies out of business.
The plans, part of a review by Customs and Excise of its Excepted Vehicles category, could also see the removal of vehicle tax exemptions, raising the cost of vehicle excise duty for a mobile crane, for instance, from £165 to around £1,000.
Colin Wood, chief executive of the Construction Plant-hire Association, said: 'This is the biggest issue that we have faced for many years and we will be resisting it strongly, because of the huge cost implications.'
Customs has issued a consultation document suggesting that there is too much ambiguity in the Excepted Vehicle category, intended for plant that is only used infrequently on the road. It said that fuel discounts, which were established in the 1930s to compensate for inefficient machinery, are no longer necessary for modern plant. It also argued that red diesel is more harmful to the environment than other forms of fuel and that removing the discounts would help it crack down on fraud.
The report said: 'The present ambiguity means there is not a level playing field - different businesses apply different interpretations, giving some an unjustified advantage.There are also concerns about safety, since off-road vehicles are not subject to the same rigorous standards as road vehicles.'
The changes would apply to mobile cranes, vehicle-mounted access platforms, traffic management vehicles, gritters and other truck-based plant.