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Hirers squeezed by high fuel costs

Plant hire firms are feeling the pinch as fuel prices rise just as business slows down in the construction industry.

Convoys of trucks blocked streets in central London in protest earlier this month when the Road Haulage Association organised a day of action.

The Construction Plant Hire Association urged its members to support the protest and to lobby MPs for cheaper diesel and the scrapping of plans to introduce a 2p a litre fuel duty in October.

The day of action was held on 2 July, just as Parliament debated amendments to the Finance Bill. The Scottish National Party put forward amendments to give relief to drivers, who currently face some of the world’s highest fuel prices.

The high prices affect plant hire firms, which use low loaders that run on Derv, and increase the overheads of the wider construction industry.

CPA legal manager David Smith says the high diesel prices come as parts of the industry face a tough time.

“Margins can be very tight and this massive hike in fuel prices is not doing anyone any favours,” he says.

“It’s unfortunate that people are struggling with something that could be eased.”

Plant hirers are also squeezed further along the supply chain by their contractor clients.

Mr Smith says: “The Olympics help people in the south-east, but business is slower for people in other areas of the country and now we are hearing about main contractors, particularly in the house building sector, asking their subcontractors to rethink their prices.”

Mr Smith accuses the Government of being reluctant to relieve the cost of diesel and calls for quicker and more incisive action.

He says: “It is unfortunate that these costs put a strain on people further down the supply chain who are already looking closely at their cash flow.

“It is especially unfortunate that the situation could have been eased if the Government took some direct action instead of standing and waiting.

“MPs should wake up to the real world, where businesses are often scraping through on minimal margins.”

Mr Smith attended the protests and says he got the impression the Government did not relish the thought of lorry drivers snagging up the roads in Westminster.

“It seemed to me that the Government was worried about lorries blocking up Parliament Square,” he says. “I was looking with great interest at the number of police present and every lorry that came over Westminster Bridge was redirected down Embankment. Maybe MPs should understand the strength of feeling and do something positive.”

He adds that the appeals of truck drivers could become more desperate as they continue to face sky-high diesel prices.

“The general feeling is that people will do what the French do and get more militant in their protests, but let’s hope things don’t come to that.”