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The true impact of rising fuel costs on New Forest businesses

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HIGH fuels costs are hitting New Forest businesses in more ways than you might think.

From losing staff who cannot afford to drive to work, to juggling daily shipping schedules, everything is being thrown up in the air by prices at the pump.

And for some firms who rely on road transport, making the switch to electric vehicles is far from the cure-all they need.

Dr Richard Strongman, managing director of Harvest Fine Foods
Dr Richard Strongman, managing director of Harvest Fine Foods

Operating a fleet of almost 40 delivery vehicles, including 20 vans and two 18-ton lorries, Harvest Fine Foods of Totton uses about 23,000 litres of fuel per month delivering food throughout the region.

Managing director Richard Strongman said: “Fuel is the biggest cost in our business. At near enough £2 per litre now for diesel, that is a big chunk of change and we’ve absorbed that cost to date.

“Costs have increased for our customers but that is more due to inflation on food – there is a cost impact from our suppliers and, of course, their increased fuel costs as well.

“I estimate we’re now absorbing an additional fuel cost of around £150,000 per year. We want to mitigate costs for customers as much as possible.”

Dr Strongman added: “Rising fuel costs cause a whole raft of issues. I have 160 staff in total and I think they’ve all felt the squeeze on their income.

“Some of my staff drive from as far afield as Bournemouth for work – we’ve had six people in different departments quit because of the rise in fuel costs.

“There is currently a shortage of HGV drivers, so our suppliers are consolidating their loads for efficiency, which can mean delays.

“We try to back-haul where possible, meaning we try to ensure our returning trucks are filled with produce where possible for efficiency, plus we use route planning software and our knowledge of the roads to make shipping as efficient as possible.

Simon Roper, owner of Jameson Executive Private Hire
Simon Roper, owner of Jameson Executive Private Hire

“We’ve explored switching over to electric vehicles but they don’t have the range we need at the moment, especially with our need for refrigeration and freezers on board – it all uses fuel.

“At the moment we feel we have to absorb these fuel cost rises because our customers are already experiencing enough real term price increases elsewhere.”

It is not just larger firms feeling the squeeze. Simon Roper, owner of Jameson Executive Private Hire, said the mileage done by his firm means electric vehicles are not viable.

Operating a fleet of three vehicles, Mr Roper said: “I can sometimes drive 1,000 miles per week and some of these electric vehicles have a range of maybe a few hundred miles between charges.

“That would end up being too much time at the charging dock for me, especially if I can get up to 700 miles off a full tank of fuel that takes me about five minutes to pump – even if the cost of filling a tank has gone up by about £60.

“There are some great electric vehicles out there but the infrastructure isn’t quite where it needs to be.”

Matthew Lawson, chair of the New Forest Business Partnership, said: “The current business climate has created a perfect storm of challenges that impact business priorities such as supply, overhead expenses, staffing and pricing.

“The most directly affected local businesses are those involved in delivery and transportation, as fuel is one of their biggest expenses – but there is an effect right through the supply chain, with increased costs being passed on to the customer.”

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