As if there weren’t enough problems already, we’ve now got the ‘Saviours of Planet Earth’ disrupting forecourt trade

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In common with many other parts of the world, we’re seeing shortages of various goods and commodities – partly as a hangover from the Covid epidemic still causing disruption in China, and partly as a result of the ongoing war in Ukraine.

At the same time, the prices of whatever is available are rocketing. To the point where, here in the UK, price inflation is already at a 30-year high and is expected to remain that way for at least the rest of this year. We’re being told to expect the largest drop in living standards since the 1950s and various economic forecasters are warning of the possibility of a recession at least as serious as the one caused by the 2008 Banking Crisis.

Of course, one effect immediately concerning the fuel retail industry here is that of pump prices. We’ve very quickly become used to expecting unleaded petrol to cost anything from £1.60 a litre upwards and diesel over £1.75 a litre. The experts are telling us that crude oil prices are expected to stay at above the $100/barrel level for the foreseeable future, so barring any further reductions in fuel duty (or even VAT) later in the year, it looks as if these sorts of pump prices are here to stay. And the only people making money out of them are the government and the banks and card companies who like to take their percentage of the ever-rising prices even though margins don’t change.

One interesting consequence of the recent price structure has been that petrol sales have increased as a proportion of total volumes over the last year or so; still below 50% but enough for some retailers to have quietly removed a few of the diesel nozzles (usually the ‘premium’ ones) on their forecourts and replaced them with additional petrol ones. In part this has been due to the need to cater for the sale of E10 petrol, but as anyone looking at used-car prices may have noticed, recent petrol vehicles are suddenly back in demand while prices of used oil-burners have fallen away.

With all of this going on, and little prospect of anything reverting to what we were used to thinking of as ‘normal’ just a couple of years ago, petrol retailers have been quietly getting on with providing their usual service to the public. But what has really incensed even these hardy individuals is suddenly finding themselves with no product to sell. They could understand it if the situation was caused by a sudden lack of product at the refineries – such as might be caused by the suspension of supply from Russia – but that’s not it deluded individuals

The interruption to their business is due entirely to a small group of deluded individuals (who may be well-intentioned) and have appointed themselves as ‘Saviours of Planet Earth’. Known by several names – Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil being two of the most recent – these individuals have chosen to create havoc along the supply chain, with the result that in recent weeks locked-up pumps have become another common sight on empty forecourts, especially in the South East and Midlands. And what has really upset many retailers is that both ‘the industry’ and the authorities have generally soft-pedalled in dealing with these people.

As one retailer put it to me: “The right to protest should be sacred, but there is no right to disrupt legitimate trade and cause damage to peoples’ livelihoods and property.”

In some ways this shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. The major oil producers and distributors are quite aware of how unpopular they already are in most of the media, and don’t want to be seen resorting to heavy legal action even to keep essential supplies moving. Ditto the police. Many police forces are under constant criticism for a whole variety of reasons, not least of which is their alleged ‘over-physical’ handling of other protests in the last couple of years. You can just imagine how reluctant they are to provide pictures of themselves physically removing some 70-year-old granny (“who’s never been on any kind of protest march before…”) to appear in the media even before they’ve cleared the mob from the oil terminal taking initative

Perhaps what is a little more surprising is that no trade body appears to have taken the initiative and obtained injunctions against the disrupters who are affecting the retailers – where has the PRA been for example? (Just asking for a retailer who wishes to remain anonymous).

As for individual retailers, very few have the time, money and stomach for going to law – especially when they too are largely portrayed in a very negative way by most media.

If your business is being disrupted by these ‘protests’ it might be worth the price of a phone call to your insurance broker to check whether your insurance policy might cover any losses caused when you have scheduled deliveries cancelled. Don’t hold out too much hope though, they’ll probably tell you that there’s a clause relating to ‘riot, commotion or civil unrest’ which means that they won’t have to pay you.