Scots unite to demand action on fuel prices

Scots farmers, fishermen and hauliers united last night to force the UK and Scottish governments to tackle the fuel crisis as it took a turn for the worse.

Drivers who deliver fuel to Shell stations across the UK are this morning beginning a four-day strike after pay talks broke down – sparking fears of more petrol shortages.

They will picket around 14 oil terminals across the UK – including Grangemouth. Sites at Aberdeen and Inverness will also be picketed.

Scots hauliers, meanwhile, spoke of their fears of back-door competition from countries with lower fuel duties, and fishermen in the Northern Isles claim they are on the verge of bankruptcy.

And Scots holidaymakers heading for the sun could also become embroiled in the crisis with reports of panic buying and dry pumps in Spain and Portugal.

Fishermen, hauliers and farmers announced they are joining forces to force the UK and Scottish governments to tackle escalating fuel prices.

The agreement came at a historic meeting in Edinburgh involving NFU Scotland, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and the Road Haulage Association. Representing 9,000 farmers, 3,500 fishermen and 1,000 haulage firms, they vowed to use their collective strength to secure measures that ease the financial strain of soaring fuel costs.

That effort will initially involve intense political lobbying of both parliaments.

NFU president Jim McLar-en said the meeting was “very important and valuable”.

He added: “We are united by a common concern at the impact of fuel prices on our future sustainability. We all agree the need to work together if we are to avoid real damage to the food industry and the thousands of jobs that are reliant on it.”

SFF chief executive Bertie Armstrong said the groups recognise the need for the UK Government to deliver different types of support to secure the long-term future of each sector.

He said: “We have agreed a joint approach that we will be developing over the coming days in pressing the Scottish and UK governments for immediate action.”

RHA Scottish director Phil Flanders was more expansive, saying the groups would be co-operating and talking more to each other about what needs to be done.

“Today was a first step so let’s see where it goes. That first step will be in lobbying. We have a parliament in Edinburgh and we need to use it, just as we need to use the parliament in London.”

The UK Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) postponed a vital meeting yesterday.

UK Fisheries Minister Jonathan Shaw was due to meet his Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish counterparts to discuss what could be done to ease the pain on fishermen of rocketing boat fuel costs.

A fisherman with more than 50 years at sea, Andrew Tait, 70, of Lonmay, near Fraserburgh, said the postponement sent out all the wrong signals to fishermen.

“It just shows a complete lack of commitment to the industry,” he added.

Protests in Europe against fuel costs and shellfish imports are costing the Orkney catching sector around £60,000 a week and pushing up borrowing in the sector to “unsustainable levels”.

French and Spanish fishermen are intercepting and destroying shipments of seafood from Scotland. As a result, trucks have stopped going to Orkney and other parts of Scotland each week to buy live shellfish.

Orkney fishermen are being denied access to valuable European markets and face ruin, it was claimed.

Orkney Lib Dem MSP Liam McArthur outlined the situation to First Minister Alex Salmond and asked for a reassurance that the Scottish Government, in conjunction with UK ministers, will do everything possible through French, Spanish and EU channels to end the dispute.

Mr Salmond said: “We are doing everything possible we can to ensure that there is free passage of goods and movement for Scottish exporters.”

In Spain, lorry drivers have been on strike for four days leading to shortages and panic-buying of food and fuel.

And there are fears that Scots holidaying in vehicles will be hit as pumps in Spain and Portugal run dry.

There were further fears for Scottish hauliers last night after industry bosses warned they faced a “catastrophe” if the European Parliament pushes ahead with plans to allow continental firms to bid for contracts in the UK.

EU transport ministers meet in Luxembourg today to discuss the proposals.

The Freight Transport Association warned that the UK faces “an invasion of foreign lorries” offering far cheaper haulage rates due to lower fuel duty in Europe.