In recent months a couple of key publications have been made available to the UK petrol retailing industry – one is a straightforward guide for service stations to help them conform to the Disability Discrimination Act; the other is on future road fuels. Both are available free in a downloadable format. Both come from UKPIA, the United Kingdom Petroleum Industry Association. “It’s all part of the service,” says Chris Hunt, who moved up to the position of director general of UKPIA in March. He joined the organisation in 1997, on secondment from Elf (which was then going through a merger) where he was head of retail operations; and in 2001 became UKPIA’s commercial director and company secretary.
“We were once a very reactive organisation. But then a number of things came together – such as the downsizing of the industry – which meant we could start to become more proactive in a number of areas than we had been.” From 13/14 member oil companies in 1997, there are now just eight, representatives from which form the main UKPIA council that meets once a month and discusses the key issues that need direction. Beyond that are about 20 standing committees that meet with varying frequency.
“Our job is to keep a radar on what’s likely to influence anything that affects downstream oil in the UK,” stresses Hunt. “Then we feed it down to the appropriate committees.”
For the record, UKPIA has in the past been extremely active in the training area, being instrumental in the formation of Cogent, the sector skills council. It has also been at the forefront of the changes in fuel specifications over the years, the introduction of new fuels and the phasing out of others; and in trying – along with other key industry organisations – to get something done about the regulatory framework on forecourts, such as Stage 1A and 1B vapour recovery legislation.
“One of the things we went to bat on successfully recently was the lorry road user charge,” stresses Hunt. “We were pleased in the last Budget that a repayment scheme rather than a duty rebated chemically marked diesel was the preferred option for delivering fuel duty reductions to road hauliers. Another issue we’re looking at is compulsory fuel stocks. Under existing EU arrangements, the UK is required to hold substantial contingency stocks of various petroleum products, such as petrol, diesel and heating oil. These stocks held by, and at the expense of, UK refiners, currently amount to 67 days of UK inland consumption. We don’t think the industry should have to manage that – it’s a big cost.”
As a lobbying group UKPIA has close links with the DTI, DEFRA and the Environment Agency; and is on a number of Government think-tanks – such as the low-carbon vehicle partnership. But with his hands now on the reins, Hunt wants to move UKPIA to doing far more in terms of getting its message across to civil servants and MPs, MEPs, the media and journalists.
“That’s where we hope to make a difference. We are very active now in making sure that happens by regular meetings with key government figures. We will be staging a fringe event at each of the main party conferences this year on how we should power our cars in the future. We want to give an informed view – fossil fuels are not going to run out; there’s a huge benefit to be had from just carrying on with improvements in vehicle technology; and thereafter the widespread introduction of electric hybrids and the use of biofuels. In terms of infrastructure, there are 10,000 retailers in the UK with forecourts, so let them be part of any future strategy.”
Hunt is also keen to create a downstream oil industry federation, incorporating non-governmental organisations such as the PRA and Garagewatch. “It means we could go to the Government under one banner,” he says. “Communication is the great skill and the route to where we go as an industry.”