Independent dealers have been left between a rock and a hard place following the speed at which fuel prices have fallen in the past month. Some also feel there is no one to defend their position to the public - particularly following prime minister Gordon Brown’s call for forecourts to bring down fuel prices in line with the fall in the price of

crude or risk an investigation by the Office of Fair Trading.

This call was later reiterated by Alistair Darling in response to both BP and Royal Dutch Shell posting huge profits.

"Do we try and match the big boys and lose large sums of money, or accept that volumes will fall further and try and make some sort of margin?" said Phil Richardson, proprietor of the Park Road Group, which has several sites in the north east.

"Prices in recent weeks have been in freefall and the speed of the falls has led to unprecedented pressures on the Platts community and to a lesser extent on margin share dealers.

"The time lag means that the product which is bought today bares no resemblance to the pole sign price of the hypers and the company managed forecourts of the majors.

"As volumes fall further, cash flow dries up and then just when you thought things could not get any worse, the price falls again leaving you high and dry.Some dealers are sitting with fuel in their tanks which is weeks old. If they don’t take the hit, sales just dry up further."

Richardson believes oil companies could help the situation by relaxing stringent supply conditions - reducing minimum load sizes allowing dealers to balance their stock requirements and avoid the trap of a full load being delivered at the wrong price.

"It galls me when the trading director of Asda announces that any retailer selling fuel above 99p is "ripping the publlic off"- especially when the stock I am holding is standing me at 102.9ppl."