Support is growing for an essential user rebate of 15p per litre of diesel fuel consumed by essential user businesses including coach operators. 40 cross-party MPs have backed the proposal, which was put forward by trade body RHA.
At the same time, two coach company proprietors have underlined the sector’s urgent need to mitigate diesel costs. One has described the proposed rebate as “urgently needed,” while another says that fuel prices are threatening the future of some coach businesses that are still recovering from the financial damage that was done by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among MPs to lend their support to the calls for an essential user rebate are several who have previously backed coach industry lobbying for central government support during the pandemic. They include Peter Aldous, Conservative, Waveney; Dr Lisa Cameron, SNP, East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow; Dave Doogan, SNP, Angus; Gordon Henderson, Conservative, Sittingbourne and Sheppey; David Mundell, Conservative, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale; and Greg Smith, Conservative, Buckingham.
Other MPs to back the call are Father of the House Sir Peter Bottomley, Chair of the Commons Trade Committee Angus McNeil and former minister John Hayes.
In addition to the rebate, RHA is calling for a cut in fuel duty to help businesses to control escalating costs. Managing Director Richard Smith says that the most recent freeze of the duty was “welcome,” but he adds that Chancellor Rishi Sunak must now go “even further.”
“Without a fuel duty rebate, coach operators and hauliers will be left with no alternative but to pass on increased costs to their customers, adding to inflation – the bulk of which will be faced by ordinary consumers,” says Mr Smith.
One coach operator member of RHA says that the proposed essential user rebate would “go some way to helping out as a short-term measure,” but Anthony’s Travel Managing Partner Richard Bamber also told BBC Politics Live on 14 March that the sector “desperately needs” a cut to fuel duty if it is to operate successfully.
Meanwhile, North East Coach Travel Managing Director Jenna Rush told Radio Five Live three days earlier that in some cases, contracted work will now be running at a loss where tendering bodies will not accept rate increases to cover higher fuel costs. That refusal could lead to some home-to-school contracts being handed back by operators, Ms Rush says.
While the Seaton Burn firm is increasing its rates, a lot of private hires up to July are already agreed, she continues. Asking customers, or parents of schoolchildren, for more money is difficult and may lead to some deciding not to travel.