Petrol prices driven to record high

PETROL prices will edge closer to a record high today, as motorists are hit with a 1.2p-a-litre increase in fuel duty.

The rise was expected to see average prices top 1.20 per litre – or 5.41 for a gallon – for the first time.

Motoring organisation the AA yesterday said its 15 million members considered the cost of petrol to be the biggest issue in the run-up to the election, and opposition parties have all proposed alternative models designed, they claim, to leave drivers better off.

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The Conservatives' "stabiliser model" and the SNP's "regulator" both work on the principle that when the price of oil goes up, duty should come down, and vice-versa.

This, they argue, would give businesses and motorists more consistent petrol prices.

The Liberal Democrats want to introduce a preferential rate for drivers in rural areas, who they believe are more reliant on cars than people living in cities.

Labour, which has introduced a staggered increase in duty in 2010-11 to make it easier for motorists, plans to put more effort into exploiting untapped oilfields east of Shetland, which would make the UK less reliant on overseas suppliers.

Gordon Banks, Labour MP for Ochil & Perthshire South, said:

"Only a few weeks ago, a barrel of oil was a quarter less than today and the SNP would have been forcing us to pay additional duty that month.

"These things need to be done in a stable, planned way. I am pleased that Alistair Darling has agreed to phase fuel duty in the Budget.''

SNP MP Angus MacNeil urged voters to make Labour pay at the polls for making them pay at the pumps.

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He said: "These latest warnings from the AA confirm that Labour and Gordon Brown have learned nothing. Sky-high fuel taxes imposed by Gordon Brown and, latterly, Alistair Darling, are indiscriminate and effectively a poll tax on wheels.

"It's not just hauliers who suffer, but ordinary families struggling to run a car for normal use."

MSP Murdo Fraser, deputy leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said the rising price of petrol was further squeezing families' already tight budgets.

He said: ''We are consulting on plans for a fair fuel stabiliser to replace the current fuel tax regime, so that tax falls when the price rises, and rises when prices fall. This would help families to cope with rapid changes in the cost of living.

''Rising fuel bills are partly the result of the weak pound. One of the reasons that fuel prices are rising is because of the weakness of the pound – and that in itself is partly due to the lack of confidence in this government.''

Liberal Democrat rural affairs spokesman Liam McArthur, MSP, called on the UK government to introduce preferential rates for people living in rural areas, similar to those in France, Greece and Portugal.

"The fuel-rate rise will hit remote and rural areas hardest,'' he said. ''In these areas, a car is a necessity, not a luxury, and very often there is little public transport alternative.''

Luke Bosdet, spokesman for the AA, said: ''Regardless of who is responsible for high fuel prices, we consult our members every month and we know this will be a huge issue at the polls.'

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"However, we also believe that the existing rural reliefs, which exempt some petrol stations, as well as hotels, pubs, general stores and post offices, from business rates, should be made more generous to protect vital services in rural communities which are suffering the effects of the recession.

"This could be funded from within the existing business rates revenue without raising bills."

Peter Lyburn, Scottish Conservative candidate for Perth & North Perthshire, said: "In the past ten years, we have lost half of our rural petrol stations in Perth & Kinross.

"There is real danger more will follow unless we persuade the SNP government to act now."