Fuel retailers work under great financial pressure in order to provide a vital service, Ray Holloway, director of the Petrol Retailers Association told a group of MPs at a meeting in London yesterday (Wednesday, February 6). Holloway met the cross-party group of MPs to discuss the current position of the forecourt sector, and what can be done to help secure the future of the industry.

The meeting was prompted by the news that MPs had set up an Early Day Motion calling on petrol retailers “to match the recent decline in oil prices by reducing the price of petrol”. Holloway had described the move as “ill-informed garbage”.

He explained to the MPs that the PRA works with MPs to help them understand the nature of the business its overall importance and what can be done to help support it.

He said: ‘Many fuel retailers are barely clearing costs. There are now less than 9,500 forecourts in the UK, including supermarket filling stations. This is the lowest number of filling stations in the UK since 1912. The situation could become critical if the total number of forecourts continues to drop at the rate of recent years.”

He explained that there was often little sympathy for fuel retailers, as the relationship between the price of a barrel of oil and the price at the pump was also often misunderstood: “There is not a direct link. Changes in the price of a barrel of oil do not necessarily affect the price at the pump immediately, and at present this is being further distorted by the falling value of the pound.

“The oil market operates internationally, and is based on the US dollar. As a result the local impact can vary greatly based upon these and other variables. It is therefore a myth that retail prices always go up with the crude oil price, and fall more slowly.”

The PRA believes that Government involvement is critical to save the nation’s fuel stations. Holloway explains: “Structure plans developed by local authorities must allow for maintenance of essential services such as forecourts. Some business rate relief is available to forecourt operators in rural areas but not in urban locations. From the evidence available they must extend this minimal support.

“The Scottish Executive has a grants scheme available to assist forecourt retailers in Scotland with capital investment. The idea is to preserve businesses, and contribute to the continuation of fuel availability in all areas. Westminster must consider a similar scheme for England and Wales.”