Duty bound: price transparency at the pumps

By Ian Taylor - chairman of the Alliance of British Drivers (ABD) and local coordinator for the TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA) in East Kent


A recent opinion article for the British Medical Journal (BMJ) called for cigarette packet-style warnings on petrol and diesel pumps. The implementation of which “could have a significant impact on the awareness of climate change.” The BMJ seems to have become yet another vehicle for environmental wokeness. The article demonstrates a clear lack of understanding of the difference between cigarettes, cars and reality. 

People who rely on petrol or diesel vehicles cannot discard them or give them up like a cigarette. In the real world, driving is a necessity for many. Academics and politicians should remember that people don’t use their cars for fun. They use them to get to work, to visit the supermarket, to pick their kids up from school - often because a reliable form of public transport doesn’t exist. For example, many people who live in the countryside cannot count on a regular bus service, making a car essential, not a luxury. 

The current chancellor Rishi Sunak seems to have taken this onboard when he recently acknowledged that many people “still rely on their cars”. He resisted calls to hike fuel duy and made the welcome decision to freeze it in March’s Budget. But it’s no secret that drivers have long been a tempting source of income for chancellors past and present. Fuel duties provided the Treasury with £28.4 billion of revenue in 2019-20. More than 60 per cent of the price at the forecourts is made up of tax and duty. Indeed, both the ABD and the TPA point out that while it is fair to take something from motorists, they should at least get a well maintained road network for their money - which they manifestly do not. 

During the coronavirus crisis fuel sales have dropped drastically. Add to this the huge falls in the cost of oil and current pump prices are a dream for motorists. But even at these low prices there still remains the fact that tax and duty account for the major proportion of fuel cost. Fuel duty directly contributes to the cost of living, pushing up bills for people all over the country.
If anything, this is the message people should be given at the pumps. So, instead of lecturing motorists as the BMJ suggests, wouldn’t it be better to show how much tax they pay when filling up at the petrol pump?

The TPA has previously called for displays at filling stations to include information on how much of the advertised price of fuel is tax. In 2013 they showed that for every £30 you put in your tank, £1 goes to the retailer, £11 covers the cost of the fuel and the remaining £18 goes to the Exchequer. Today around £21 goes to the taxman.

The Alliance of British Drivers endorses these calls for greater cost transparency - the government shouldn’t be taking motorists, and taxpayers, for a ride.

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