Its argument that December’s price data is less reliable because it is taken from fuel card transactions and there have been “far fewer of these” because the roads are less busy between Christmas and New Year isn’t particularly convincing. There are four and a half weeks in December, not one.
It would be on firmer ground with a point about increased running costs such as a 19pc rise in electricity prices if it wasn’t for the fact that the large majority of petrol stations are owned by large multi-billion pound FTSE 100 corporations such as Shell and BP, the big supermarket chains, and super-wealthy entrepreneurs like Blackburn-based brothers Mohsin and Zuber Issa, rather than small, independent businesses. Reports claim Asda has surrendered its longstanding position as petrol price leader since falling into the Issas hands.
Tired arguments from retailers about having little choice but to pass on rising costs to consumers don’t necessarily stack up either. It was only recently that Tesco was shouting about how it would be able to absorb inflationary spikes rather than raising prices in its supermarkets.
Whatever the truth, there’s no denying that drivers feel they aren’t being treated fairly. Campaigners see it as part of a wider war against the large majority of motorists who have yet to make the switch to electric vehicles despite increased taxes on petrol models and moves to restrict journeys into major cities, or ban them altogether in some.
Nor can the industry pretend that petrol retailers eke out a modest living on razor-thin margins. The Issas have built a giant empire out of flogging petrol, one that has propelled them into the upper echelons of Britain’s paper billionaires and even enabled the pair to pull off a wildly-ambitious takeover of Asda, albeit with the help of some generous lending banks and byzantine financial engineering.
Whether the UK’s third largest grocer will be able to withstand such financial alchemy is doubtful but for now selling petrol remains a highly lucrative line of work to be in.
Shell has placed its global network of 45,000 filling stations – a statistic that its bosses like to point out gives the oil titan a bigger retail footprint than the likes of Starbucks or McDonald’s – at the heart of attempts to transform the lumbering oil giant into a nimble renewables player.