Petrol costs hit emergency services

By Brendan Manning

As petrol prices hit a national all-time high, emergency services are feeling the pain alongside motorists.

TrustPower Rescue Helicopter base manager and pilot Liam Brettkelly said soaring fuel costs were cutting into budgets.

"It goes without saying that obviously our operating costs are a lot more than they used to be," Mr Brettkelly said.

St John Ambulance Bay of Plenty district operations manager Jeremy Gooders said high petrol prices meant increased operating costs for the ambulance service, but patients would not be affected.

"It doesn't reduce our frontline ambulance service, it's just we obviously budget at the start of each financial year and a number of operating costs increase each year and fuel's been one of them.

"It has no detrimental effect on our provision of ambulance services," Mr Gooders said.

Some emergency services have been forced to cut training or trim budgets to cope with surging fuel costs.

The Rotorua BayTrust Rescue Helicopter says with more money being spent on fuel, less money is going into training for pilots and crew, although duty manager Art Kowalski insists safety is not being compromised.

"They're still up to a decent level of flying, of course. But maybe they're not quite as proficient as they could be."

Petrol has soared to its highest price ever, with most city outlets selling 91-octane fuel for 222.9c a litre.

National fire service chief financial officer Brett Warwick said cost increases in a tight budgetary environment had to be managed carefully. "Fuel is critical to New Zealand Fire Service operations but makes up makes up less than 1 per cent of its total operating budget," he said.

"The increase in fuel costs will be managed within the overall budget, without affecting operations."

The rising cost has made most petrol 1 cent a litre more expensive than the previous high watermark in May 2011, although industry minnow Gull Petroleum is offering prices at least 8 cents below those of the big four - BP, Mobil, Chevron and Z.

It has left economists such as UBS New Zealand's Robin Clements fretting about the effect on household spending through the fragile financial recovery.

"Petrol is such a pervasive product, it is like a tax, it will crowd out other spending," he said.

Oil companies are blaming the increase on greater economic confidence overseas, in both the United States and Europe, as well as tensions in the Middle East.

AA spokesman Mark Stockdale said after a succession of cuts in May and June, petrol had risen by 26 cents a litre in the past six weeks because of rising international commodity prices, fuel tax and oil company profit margins.

Gull general manager Dave Bodger said his company had managed to keep its prices down through efficiency measures, the benefits of which it had passed on to motorists rather than "swallowing the profit".

Z spokeswoman Sheena Thomas said the cost of imported fuel had increased by about 30 cents a litre since July 5. APNZ

- Bay of Plenty Times

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