Limitations on the use of red diesel for the construction and engineering sectors UK.
Glasgow and COP26 resulted in various commitments from global economies to work towards targets in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The UK is to target the reduction of greenhouse emissions to net zero by 2050.
However, even prior to COP26 there were already legislative changes afoot to have cleaner air. The Finance Bill 2021, and the associated secondary legislation, as part of the government’s plans to reduce carbon emissions, has the effect of restricting the usage of red diesel after April 2022.
What is red diesel? In short it is regular (white) diesel that is dyed to make it identifiable. Why? It is taxed at a much lower rate, making it almost 50 pence a litre cheaper than white diesel. That discount will end for those industry sectors that have used it, but are now restricted from its usage post April 2022.
Construction and manufacturing industries cannot use red diesel after April 2022. These are sectors that use the rebated red diesel. In the construction industry, site electricity generators along with heavy plant, machinery and heavy vehicles will all now be forced to run on white diesel to a much higher cost.
There is pressure on all industry sectors to adopt green measures. This is now increasingly becoming the norm, and is affecting virtually all businesses and sectors. By way of illustration, Lloyds Bank has announced that in relation to green homes, when looking at affordability there will less stringent stress testing.
The governments stated aim is to encourage businesses affected by the red diesel restrictions to use less fuel, or eventually to adopt greener alternatives. However, few in the construction industry would use more fuel than absolutely necessary, so in order to avoid cost inflation, there needs to be alternative options that the construction and engineering sectors must have.
So have we got the alternative technology to give viable options? For example, electric powered plant or cleaner fuels such as hydro treated vegetable oil. Is there scope for future use of Hydrogen power? As we have previously discussed in this blog, significant strides have been made in this area to date and there are a number of construction vehicle suppliers now providing a broad range of electrically-powered construction machinery. However, despite this, diesel power is still dominant in the sector and in some areas there are few, if any, alternatives available.
For the construction, engineering and energy sectors, the following points arise for consideration and debate:
- Super inflation in the construction, engineering and energy sectors is a massive issue in the UK, and indeed in other parts of the world. Rising supply costs and increased energy prices have dogged the industry in 2021. This loss of rebate is likely to result in yet further increases to site and project costs. In turn this is likely to increase the pressure on the bottom lines of many companies in the sector, and is in turn likely to mean more expensive houses, hospitals, schools, road projects and so on. This is a pertinent issue in the UK in particular, given the shortage of affordable housing and the current issues surrounding the state of disrepair of some of the housing stock in inner cities.
- Against this, the government is not forecasting significant macroeconomic benefits in terms of increased tax revenue – meaning that a government already short of cash thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic will likely have to pay more for its construction projects, with no substantive additional money coming in against which to offset that cost.
- Concrete processing plants will be affected by steep cost rises. To state the obvious, concrete is a key ingredient on any construction project, and is the most widely used material in the world!
- It is being reported that in Northern Ireland the cost to construction businesses could be as much as £25M per year.
- Plant and machinery that is no longer eligible to use red diesel must be drained, flushed and cleaned. Furthermore, any usage outside the permitted circumstances may result in confiscation of plant and machinery. In practice this may create a significant administrative burden on companies in the short term.
- Whilst the industry accepts the need to embrace green practices to strive towards net zero carbon emissions by 2050, some argue that the changes being implemented are possibly too soon, and before alternative fuels and/or technologies are in place.
- Have we actually got readily available alternative green options? At present, is the only viable option arguably to switch to white diesel only, and if so, does that really reduce the carbon emissions from the usage of red diesel? In reality the answer is no, unless a cleaner source of fuel is available. This in turn leads to a need for potential machinery modifications to accommodate such fuels. Additionally, problems may grow for plant hirers when machinery is hired consecutively by unaffected and then effected industries. Plant and machinery in the construction industry, often represent considerable assets of a business. If the idea is that these will become obsolete, this will present further problems for the sector.
- The government’s thought process, on the other hand, appears to be that necessity is the mother of invention, and increasing fuel costs will drive down emissions created by the construction industry.
- Those in the industry cannot be expected to absorb these costs, and the inevitable effect will be that these additional costs of running plant machinery, concrete manufacture and quarry operations, to name a few, will need to be passed onto the end users.
- As with all cost increases there will inevitably be considerable impacts on current projects. For contractors bound into contracts that prohibit price changes or increases for these matters, this change alongside the current price hyperinflation dogging the industry could prove fatal.
- Equally, increased fuel costs and price hyperinflation will increase the uncertainty around tendering for work. Prospective contractors will need to consider carefully the risks posed by these cost increases and how they are likely to be affected in the long term.
 Rail transport, agricultural, fishing and water freight, amateur sports clubs, golf courses, non-commercial power generation, traveling funfairs and circus.
 The Sunday Telegraph, 23 January 2022. This on basis that green homes are more efficient to run, and there will be lower outgoings.
 BBC News 24/01/2022-Red Diesel loss ‘could cost businesses millions’