Norwich businesses pay price for sky high fuel costs

The increase in petrol prices is taking its toll on local businesses and charities.

Petrol prices have gone up 15pc in less than a year and have now reached a record high, with the average price across the UK standing at 130.68p a litre for unleaded and 136.14p for diesel yesterday. In an Evening News survey of Norwich pumps, the average for unleaded petrol was �1.29 and diesel was �1.34.

Yesterday, chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander announced plans to reduce fuel duty by 5p in island and remote communities – but it will not help people in Norfolk, only those in the Highlands, the Hebrides and Scilly Isles. Mr Alexander said the discount was intended to help 'hard-hit families' who generally pay higher fuel prices due to their outlying locations.

But AA president Edmund King said: 'There is a very strong case for fuel duty reductions across the board.'

In Norwich, many businesses and organisations said they were struggling.

Jill Gaul runs the Norwich Door to Door Charity, based at the community hospital on Bowthorpe Road, which provides affordable transport for more than 500 disabled people in the city, thanks to a network of '34 wonderful, brilliant volunteers'. But the rise in fuel prices is hitting them hard. 'Our budget is completely shot. We're �5,000 over budget on fuel for this year.'

The community transport group, of which Norwich Door to Door are members, will be holding its first forum next week and top of the agenda will be the cost of fuel. There will be discussions about the possibility of bulk-purchasing fuel for the group in an attempt to reduce outgoings.

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Paul Starkings, who runs the Eaton-based driving school Aspire 2 Drive, said he has had no choice but to increase prices and says the government must withhold the planned increases to fuel duty. He said: 'We were very reluctant to increase prices, but we have to make a living.' Paul is also considering adding a surcharge to learner drivers who live outside the city, just to cover the extra cost of fuel.

Duncan Snelling of Jarretts Removals and Storage, based on Waterworks Road, near Dereham Road, said that the costs have been detrimental to his business: 'We work in a very competitive market where the cheapest is chosen. We just can't put prices up in line with fuel.' He said that he had looked into more fuel-efficient vehicles, but that it was not cost-effective as an upgrade to each vehicle costs approximately �4,000.

One of the hardest hit areas is the taxi trade in the city.

Bob Marti, who has been driving a hackney carriage for 10 years, said that this time of year is notoriously bad for business. He called for unity among cab drivers to do something to fight the continuous rise in prices.

Jason Lovett, from Loyalty Taxis on Prince of Wales Road, said: 'It's coming to the point where it is not going to be worth driving. With the latest increase in petrol prices and the increase in insurance, we are going to have no choice but to put up our fares.'

Spiralling costs of repairs, fuel and insurance, coupled with a slow economy are adding pressure to the already expensive business of running a taxi. A hackney carriage with automatic transmission averages around 20 miles to the gallon and a new vehicle costs in the region of �30,000, which adds huge hire purchase costs onto the outgoings of cabbies who don't own their vehicle outright.

One driver, who did not want to be named, said it was not uncommon for taxi drivers in Norwich to work in excess of ninety hours a week just to 'tread water'. Another driver, who also did not want to be named, warned that if prices continued to rise there was a danger that some drivers would start using red diesel, which is taxed at a much lower rate, but is illegal to use in cars.

Minicab companies are free to set their own fares, while black cabs or hackney carriages have set fares regulated by the city council.

Increasing the fares of hackney carriages will also be up for discussion at the next Hackney Trade Association meeting. But opinion seems divided between the drivers themselves. One unnamed hackney cab driver said that he thought a further price increase would 'kill the business'.

Simon Callender, who runs ABC Taxis, based on Paddock Street, off Heigham Street, said the fuel price rises came on top of other problems. 'People have a significant lack of disposable income, especially since VAT went up at the start of the year and as a result business has been noticeably flat.

'We haven't had to put prices up yet, but we probably will by the end of the month and that will have an impact on the number of customers.'

Hackney carriage driver Dave Parker, who is often based at Norwich railway station, said: 'It's rubbish. They have been getting worse for the past three years. I was making more money when I started 13 years ago.'

At the railway station yesterday, other hackney carriage drivers agreed. Colin Dakers said: 'In twenty years of driving these have been the worst three. The fuel increase just adds to the problems of increasing insurance and parts.'

A spokesman for Norwich City Council said: 'We haven't been approached by the hackney carriage trade association with an application to increase fares, so at present there are no plans to put up fares for customers in Norwich.'

How are petrol price rises affecting you? Write to Evening News letters at Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE, or