Just back from seeing Vince Cable at The House of Commons arguing the merits of a 3p cut in duty in this Budget. Its late, I’m frozen from queuing outside for the security checks and a bit disheartened. Dr Cable gets it though. As an economist he understands the importance of helping all those small and medium sized companies who struggle because fuel adds so much to their costs of sales. And while he couldn’t make any promises he did say our economic augments make plenty of sense.
A quote from his Dr Cable's office following our meeting last night: "Vince welcomed campaigners from Fairfuel UK, made it clear that he could not make commitments on behalf of the Government, but listened sympathetically, and was particularly impressed with the quality of the evidence relating to the price of fuel and its impact on the cost of small business."
But why, when I make these regular visits to the Palace of Westminster do I always feel like some mischievous five-year-old who’s been caught playing hopscotch in a cathedral? All I’m asking for is to help businesses and families squeeze a tiny bit more out of their thread-bare finances so we can all get through another difficult year. I believe the Government is massively out of touch with the electorate on the fuel issue. They just don’t (or won’t) understand how many people are struggling out there.
Listen to all the surveys and you’d think we’re on the home stretch. But actually talk to people who run small businesses and families who have had to cut back on food, driving and leisure and its a very different story. For many January and February of this year have been really miserable - some say they’re surprised how bad its been - and I worry we’re going into another flat quarter. And the rest of the year isn’t looking at all promising either with the inevitable oil price hikes because of the Ukraine crisis, stuttering growth in the US and a fall in demand from China. Cutting fuel duty now could protect us from another slowdown in 2014 which I believe is coming.
And the worst bit, the reason I’m so disheartened, is that FairFuelUK has given the government surveys from respected economic bodies proving our case that a duty cut will create 70,000 jobs and improve GDP by 0.2%, but it feels like I'm explaining my hobbies to an Easter Island statue. They’re just not listening. History (and the electorate) will judge the London-centric political elite as too insulated from the anxieties of the rest of the country and detached from the millions who have no choice but to use their cars and vans. Having the highest diesel and the second highest petrol duty in the EU slows down business growth and is a tax on the movement of goods and people. We can all understand this - why can’t they?