Chancellor Alistair Darling faced yet another piece of awkward news yesterday as he worked on the final version of his first Budget speech. The price of crude oil shot up to yet another record, within a whisker of $106 a barrel. By some calculations, if you allow for inflation that is now a higher than the peak price during the oil shock of 1980, which led to a recession that destroyed swathes of West Midlands industry.
Mr Darling has promised a Budget that avoids turning the economic slowdown into a recession - even though the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies says he needs to raise an extra £8 billion, equivalent to nearly 3p on basic rate income tax. Some of that money will come from the North Sea, courtesy of the price of crude, where every dollar on the barrel boosts the Treasury's revenues.
As oil prices rose faster than other prices in recent years Gordon Brown made a habit of postponing the annual 2p a litre "green" levy on petrol until the following October. Mr Darling will do it again this year. If he fails to there will be an outcry about two 2p increases only six months apart. After his capital gains tax fiasco Mr Darling can do without another outcry, let alone a repeat of the motorway and refinery blockades by protesting truckers in 2000.
Still, truth be told, 2p a litre is little more than a pin-prick for most motorists because the Government is already taking about 68p. The price at the pump has risen by about 6p since the last tax increase in October and there is no sign people are driving less.
Trucks are another matter. The cost of the fuel they use filters through to the price of all the goods they carry. It bears directly on the cost of living and on the official measure of inflation that the Bank of England is supposed to contain by interest rates.
Worse, British hauliers compete head-on with those based on the Continent who can fill up their tanks at much lower rates of tax before crossing the Channel. Once here, they can then quote lower prices than their British counterparts for the return journey, or indeed to deliveries within Britain.
This was the root cause of their outrage seven-and-half years ago and one the Chancellor Darling can address. Trucks use diesel, not petrol. He can use some of his inflated North Sea revenues to cut the tax on diesel and redress the hauliers' competitive disadvantage.
True, motorists with diesel-engined cars would benefit, too. The Chancellor could claim that was a "green" benefit because a litre of diesel goes further than a litre of petrol, spewing out less greenhouse gas.
It could be done - and with next to no risk of unintended consequences.