Fuel campaign group needed to ‘lead protest over prices’
A rallying call has been made for a fuel lobby group to be established which will stand up to high prices.
Owner of Tagon Stores, Scott Preston, says the time is right for someone to lead a protest organisation similar to Fair Fuel Solutions in the Western Isles where fuel is supplied by the same company as Shetland and similar high costs are endured by islanders.
Mr Preston took a stand against high prices last year when he and his wife Phoebe slashed the prices charged at their pumps by 20 pence per litre for one day only. Now he has called on someone else to take up the mantle and battle against unfair pump prices.
His request comes as motorists continue to be charged around £1.50 for every litre of fuel amid concerns over Scottish Fuels’ dominant market position in the isles and the high tax levels imposed by the UK government.
Mr Preston says businesses are suffering as a result of the ever rising costs. And he maintains people here have much to learn from their counterparts in Lewis.
“Us Shetland folk moan about it until the cows come home. But we don’t do anything about it,” he said.
“The approach that Fair Fuels Solutions has taken is just right. They don’t go in there with all guns blazing. They just go and state the facts. They look at all things, they investigate things.
“If we had somebody that would stand up and say, I’ll do what Callum [Ian MacMillan] has done over in the Western Isles … I’ll hold regular meetings and make sure that we do discuss things together. That one person … could make a difference.”
Whoever takes up the cause is likely to face a difficult task in forcing through changes.
Mr Preston pointed to wholesale figures which showed his business had to pay 10 pence more now for petrol than it did at Christmas time, and over four pence more for diesel since last month.
That, he says, makes little sense given the time of year.
“If you look at the pattern of fuel … in the winter months the price goes up. Now, why would the price go up in the winter when people are surely buying more?
“If we’re buying more in bulk, then surely the price should be going down, because we’re buying more so you get bigger discounts. And why does it drop in the summer?”
Mr Preston said the fault did not just lie with the main fuel suppliers to the isles.He pointed to the UK government being one of the worst in Europe when it comes to fuel duty.
“What we have to bear in mind is that we should not go on an all-out attack on Scottish Fuels. If you take the duty off, we’ve actually got the cheapest fuel.”
He pointed to recent findings which showed that, if the government dropped the tax on fuel, the rate at which people would buy petrol or diesel would increase, thereby giving the government the necessary cover for the drop they would make.
Mr Preston said isles MP Alistair Carmichael, the deputy chief whip in the coalition government, needed to put the isles first.
“He’s not a representative of the government. He represents the people of Orkney and Shetland.”
Much of the attention over fuel has focused on the latest investigation by the Office of Fair Trading, and its investigation into the level of competition in the Western Isles.
Many have insisted the probe should include the Northern Isles as well.
But an OFT spokesman said the investigation depended on evidence coming forward.
“This is a formal investigation, it’s not a general enquiry. Unlike in a general enquiry we can only look at specifics where we have evidence, and the evidence in this case specifically relates to the Western Isles. That’s why the focus in this case is on the Western Isles.
“Investigations have to be determined by the evidence we have. If there was compelling evidence which suggested a possible breach of the law in Shetland we’d obviously consider that.”
He added the authority was in the “initial stages” of an investigation and will make a decision on whether or not to proceed with a full investigation next month.
But Mr Preston highlighted last year’s visit to the isles by GB Oils’ boss Sam Chambers, in which many locals felt he failed to adequately explain his profit margins and costs to councillors during a visit to the isles.
Mr Chambers had struggled to persuade people why motorists here were paying more than their mainland counterparts.
In particular, drivers were concerned that around six pence per litre had been left unaccounted for in Mr Chambers’ figures.
Mr Preston described the OFT’s stance as “an absolute farce”.
“There is something to investigate here,” he added. “I’d love to see them come and have a look, but I very much doubt it will involve any real investigation.
“It will involve a call for people to put evidence in. And that’s it.”
Last year heavy criticism was levelled at the OFT over a separate investigation into fuel prices, in which it opted not to point the finger of blame at suppliers to Shetland and other isolated areas.