Lobby group calls for another fuel inquiry
A national lobby group seeking a fairer deal on fuel has called on the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) to launch another inquiry into fuel prices.
Demands by Fair Fuel UK for the investigation into claimed fuel price manipulation by oil companies have been backed by Isles MP Alistair Carmichael.
The OFT says it has failed to find evidence that oil firms are unfairly setting fuel prices to consumers, as has been claimed. However it would welcome any new information.
It comes after Fair Fuel UK handed a petition to the OFT calling on them to emulate regulators in the USA and the European mainland by investigating oil price manipulation.
Mr Carmichael said: “We have heard allegations in recent years from whistle-blowers that the oil industry actively engages in Libor-like oil price manipulation.
“It is about time that these rumours were fully investigated by the OFT so that we can get to the bottom of what is going on.
“With investigations underway in America and Europe, the OFT has no excuse.”
He pointed to efforts made by the UK government in recent years to mitigate against rising fuel prices.
“We [the coalition government] cancelled Labour’s ‘fuel duty escalator’ and scrapped scheduled fuel duty increases meaning that motorists will be 18 pence per litre better off by September this year. Orkney and Shetland were also given a further five pence per litre cut in fuel duty to tackle high prices.
“If oil companies are manipulating oil prices, all of our hard work could be going to waste.”
The OFT said it recognised that the price of petrol and diesel is a subject of significant public concern. But it pointed to previous findings compiled during a five month study that showed road fuels in the UK were among the cheapest in Europe – before tax.
“Potential manipulation of futures markets, or price reporting, would raise significant concerns,” a spokesman said.
“However, we did not receive credible evidence of this during our study which we could pursue.
“Following an allegation received from an overseas company, the European Commission has since opened a cross-border investigation in the crude oil, refined oils and biofuels sector, which remains at an early stage.
“The OFT has been liaising closely with the European Commission but cannot take civil enforcement action in relation to the same matters as the Commission.
“We have also been liaising closely with other UK agencies, … to establish whether there is sufficient available evidence to warrant a criminal investigation in the UK, and if so who is best placed to take action.”
The OFT says it will continue to welcome any new information about the market.
“Where we receive credible evidence of potentially anti-competitive behaviour, we will look to take action, as we have done in other markets – including our investigation into road fuel distribution in the Western Isles and Shetland Islands.”
The OFT is due to decide whether to continue that investigation, which began in January, this month.