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‘Petrol profiteers’ hike fuel prices by 5p a litre ahead of refinery strike

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Daily Mail: ‘Petrol profiteers’ hike fuel prices by 5p a litre ahead of refinery strike

By RAY MASSEY 
Last updated at 13:07pm on 23rd April 2008

Petrol firms are being accused of profiteering after raising prices by up to 5p a litre in 48 hours.

The increases come ahead of a planned strike at a massive refinery which is expected to lead to fuel shortages.

Talks aimed at averting the planned 48-hour strike at the giant Grangemouth oil refinery resumed today at the conciliation service Acas.

Officials from the Unite union again met bosses from Ineos, which owns the site in Scotland, following more than six hours of meetings yesterday.

Up to 1,200 workers are due to walk out on Sunday and Monday in protest at plans to close the final salary pension scheme to new workers and make other changes to pensions.

The cost of filling up a typical family car is now £54.37 – £8 more than a year ago.

The average price of unleaded petrol stands at 109p a litre, all but £5 a gallon. Diesel is 118p a litre, £5.37 a gallon.

One garage in Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s constituency briefly charged 145p for a litre of diesel, but claimed it was down to a computer error.

The Rix garage in Kirkcaldy, Fife, took 15p off a litre after it discovered the error.

Retailers blamed the rises on international oil prices, which hit a record $120 a barrel yesterday.

But consumer groups suggested drivers were being ripped off.

The RAC said it was “worrying” that firms appeared to be exploiting the threatened strike at Grangemouth in Falkirk.

The AA warned against panic-buying.

Brendan McLoughlin, of the cost comparison site PetrolPrices.com, said some garages appeared to be raising prices knowing drivers need to fill up whatever the cost.

“Drivers should compare prices to make sure they don’t fall victim to profiteering,” he added.

“Prices are likely to increase further if the dispute is not resolved, so drivers need to make sure they are not getting ripped off.”

He echoed calls from ministers yesterday for motorists to avoid panic-buying which could push prices up further.

“The mere threat of closure has pushed both oil and petrol prices to record highs across the country,” he added.

“The worst thing drivers can do is go out and fill up.

“Panic buying will only increase the chance of shortages and push prices further toward £1.50 a litre.”

Unions and bosses at Grangemouth, which is responsible for 10 per cent of UK fuel supplies, met at the arbitration service ACAS yesterday in a last-ditch attempt to head off the strike.

But hopes of a deal were fading as Ineos announced it was taking legal action against the union representing its workers.

One in three petrol stations in Scotland has hiked fuel prices since the weekend – some by as much as 5p a litre – amid panic buying at the forecourts.

There is also widespread evidence of price rises south of the border.

One forecourt in Birmingham was selling unleaded for 119.9p a litre.

In Newcastle, it has increased from

106.1p to 107.1p, in Birmingham from

107.1p to 108.4p, in Nottingham from

106.4p to 107.7p and in Reading from 107p to 108.5.

In Kensington, central London, diesel was selling for as much as 129.9p per litre.

A BP garage in Calcot, Reading, said prices had increased there by as much as 2p in the last week to 117.9p for diesel and

The AA said some garages running short of supplies were raising their prices “to protect their reserves”.

Spokesman Luke Bosdet said: “Fuel shortages threaten to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“There have been reports of drivers fighting each other on the forecourts. Drivers need to keep their heads.”

Business Secretary John Hutton has started putting in place contingency plans which could include petrol rationing and prioritising supplies for key workers.

He said: “If the strike does go ahead, we will do everything in our power to minimise disruption.

“Everyone can help in this by just buying fuel as normal – buying extra causes problems in the system which would otherwise not exist.”

A spokesman for the RAC Foundation said there appeared to be a clear link between the Grangemouth stand-off and the soaring prices: “The timing is certainly worrying, and it would be really disappointing if that was happening.”

Neil Greig of the Institute of Advanced Motorists said: “It certainly is suspicious that fuel prices have gone up in the light of this threatened closure of Grangemouth.

“Our view is that garages should not be taking advantage of people at this time, when they are already worried about shortages.”

The Petrol Retailers’ Association denied “profiteering”, either by garages or by the oil giants.

Its director, Ray Holloway, said prices were rising at up to 9,300 outlets in the UK because of “market conditions”.

He added: “I won’t say no one is taking advantage. But on the whole, prices are rising anyway.

“It is not profiteering. It is a rising market.

“With the problems at Grangemouth, people are simply putting two and two together and making five.”

Mr Holloway pointed out that the Chancellor takes about 70p in tax for every pound spent at the pumps.

BP reported annual profits of £8.7billion in February despite suffering serious “corporate overheads”.

The company is set to shed 5,000 employees by the middle of next year. A month earlier, Shell announced record profits of nearly £14billion.

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