GOOD ON THE GRANGEMOUTH WORKERS! – say Road Hauliers

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‘I think, good on the striking workers at Grangemouth,’ said Simon Gough, from A E Gough and Sons in mid-Wales, as more than 100 cash-strapped road hauliers drove into Westminster for a demonstration over fuel prices yesterday.

He summed up the mood of the majority of the lorry drivers at the protest – representing hauliers across the country – as they parked their lorries near Marble Arch.

‘Our fuel has gone up over the last 12 months – £16,000 per year per vehicle – and a lot of people have already gone out of business,’ he told News Line.

A leaflet issued by TransAction-2007, who helped organise yesterday’s event, quoted UNITE national secretary for road transport, Ron Webb, who said: ‘We are sympathetic to TransAction’s views.’

Webb said that unless the government ‘introduce a method of returning some of the tax to road haulage companies, they will simply not be able to continue to operate’.

Mick Clifton, from Lincolnshire, a lorry driver for J S Cook and Sons, told News Line: ‘I never know whether my job’s safe. If Mr Cook can’t afford to pay the bills, I lose my job.

‘I want Brown to put the fuel prices down. If Brown cuts fuel prices, then the prices of everything will go down and everyone will benefit.

‘The situation for motorists is just getting ridiculous. Everything’s going up. A normal person can’t manage.

‘It’s alright for Brown, when he gets everything paid for him.

‘We’re going to take a coffin to parliament because these taxes spell the death of the haulage industry.’

Carl Green, from Ge-Be Transport, King’s Lynn, said: ‘The price of diesel has now hit £1.25 a litre.

‘Three years ago we were paying 72p and we’re still running at 2004-05 prices to our customers.

‘We need a desperate cut in fuel – I know of five hauliers this week who have gone bust.’

Martin Cook, from B&M Cook Transport Ltd in Kent, said: ‘It cost me £9,000 in March for diesel alone – that’s without tax, insurance and running costs.’

Gerry Jones, from Gerry Jones Transport Ltd, Newport, said: ‘Twelve months ago we were paying 74p a litre before VAT and at today’s prices it’s £1.01 a litre.

‘It’s a 30 per cent increase in our fuel costs and 50 per cent of that is duty.’

He expressed the demand of the hauliers for an ‘essential user rebate’, adding: ‘We can’t increase our prices because our customers can’t afford to pay any more.’

The hauliers defied the heavy rain to stage a rally at Marble Arch before heading for parliament to deliver their coffin as the sun came out again.

• Second news story

WOODLEY MEETS RATCLIFFE AT SECRET LOCATION

negotiations took place between Ineos venture capitalist and Grangemouth oil refinery boss Jim Ratcliffe and Unite General Secretary Tony Woodley at a secret location in London yesterday.

A Unite spokesman claimed: ‘Informal talks are taking place, not negotiations.’ He did not mention the involvement of Woodley.

Asked if strike action would be resumed by the 1,200 workers if the company did not back down on its threat to smash their pension scheme, the Unite spokesman told News Line: ‘We haven’t ruled anything out and we haven’t ruled anything in.’

Pickets left the gates of the refinery after the 48-hour strike ended at 6am yesterday, with the first shift returning to work at 7am.

On Monday evening, Prime Minister Brown held talks with Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond at the House of Commons.

A Downing Street spokesman told News Line: ‘The talks were private and confidential.’

The Grangemouth strike halted half of North Sea oil production when a key pipeline powered by the plant was closed, estimated at costing the UK economy: £50 million a day.

In the past few days the Scottish Government has shipped about 65,000 tonnes of fuel, mostly diesel, from Europe to bolster supplies.

UK Business Secretary John Hutton said yesterday: ‘This is where this dispute must end.’