A haulage boss fears firms could go bust after the cost of fuel “spiralled” this week as the price of oil surged to its highest level in 2023.
Lesley O’Brien, director of Freight Link Europe, said the cost of filling an articulated truck leapt from £40,000 a year to £60,000 a year when petrol pump prices hit record highs during the height of the crisis in 2022.
Fuel makes up a third of the business’s costs, but as prices escalate the expense has to be passed on to customers with consumers then seeing their shopping basket become less affordable.
The price of oil has spiked by around £16 ($20) since the start of July to £77 (just under $95) on 19 September, with the the RAC warning drivers are “in for a hard time at the pumps” after global oil prices rocketed.
August saw drivers hit by one of the biggest monthly fuel price rises in nearly a quarter of a century, the RAC said.
Petrol prices have soared by 10p per litre since 1 August and currently stand at an average of 155.5p per litre. Meanwhile, diesel has seen an increase of 13p and is currently at 170p per litre on average.
Economists had forecast that inflation in August would rise from 6.8 per cent to 7.1 per cent as a result of a surge in petrol and diesel prices, but instead there was a fall to 6.7 per cent.
Ms O’Brien told i: “We have a fuel surcharge with our customers and we’re having to hike it up again.
“On a Friday we get our alert for what fuel is going to be for the following week. We don’t just rely on one fuel supplier, we have a couple that we that we work with, but they have just all gone up.
“I was at meeting last week with a fuel company and they just predicted it would rocket this week. And the signal was it would go up again.
“Which is terrible for the man in the street because he’s using his car to get to work and the supermarket and on top of that the prices in the supermarket will go up.”
The firm, based in Halifax, West Yorkshire, had previously advised customers each month on changes to the extra fuel surcharge to be paid, but have switched to weekly notifications as prices are so volatile.
Last year, members of trade body the Road Haulage Association (RHA) said the cost of operating a 44-tonne lorry had leapt by 19 per cent.
Fuel prices had propelled the soaring costs after record highs at petrol pumps last year due to record inflation.
According to RAC Fuel Watch, August saw drivers hit by one of the biggest increases in 23 years.
Ms O’Brien added: “The economy totally relies on the haulage industry. Think of anything that you buy, eat, drink, consume that doesn’t come on the back of a lorry. And yet we’re the last in the food chain
“We are the ones that are expected to absorb this, yet we work on the smallest of margins. The largest percentage of vehicle operators are family businesses, with 10 vehicles or less.
“And what we will find if we’re not careful is that these businesses that are the backbone of our economy simply go out of business.”
Other financial pressures from increasing drivers’ salaries as well as a post-Brexit increase in vehicles made it feel the country’s stuttering economy was already in recession, hitting the freight industry with a “double whammy”.
“2008 was the last time we were in such a situation and for me, it feels worse than 2008,” Ms O’Brien said.
Rishi Sunak has vowed to slash inflation in half by the end of the year but Ms O’Brien is not sure he can.
“If fuel continues to go up it’s going to be very, very difficult. I hope and pray that he can because it will make a massive difference to the man in the street,” she said,
“But it will make a massive difference to the haulage industry because people will feel confident in going out and buying and when people go out and buy things need to move on trucks,