Fuel supplier stonewalls as anger mounts over continued price gap
By NEIL RIDDELL
MONOPOLY fuel distributor in the isles GB Oils is refusing to talk publicly about why Shetland motorists are continuing to pay among the highest fuel prices in the world, prompting the SIC to pursue talks with the company aimed at ending the inflated costs.
GB Oils has come under criticism in recent weeks from lobbyists and politicians in the isles over their business model, which many claim is causing a 15-20p differential in the prices paid here compared to the mainland, but has repeatedly refused to discuss the reasons for the wide disparity.
A phone number for the company was ringing out this week but in an emailed response to a detailed query from The Shetland Times, GB Oils head of marketing Gareth Williams wrote: “It has never been our policy to discuss confidential commercial matters with lobby groups or the press. We would however be willing to discuss these matters, as we have done in the past, with the government and official representatives of government. I trust you appreciate our approach with this matter.”
Consumer advocate Paul Meyer, who runs the Rip-Off Britain website and lives in Rerwick, said the company’s lack of response was “the height of corporate irresponsibility”. He is calling for the Office of Fair Trading to investigate the high level of fuel prices in Shetland and in an email to Mr Williams this week, he said GB Oils should be “ashamed of your inaction”.
Mr Meyer wrote: “GB Oils Ltd have a duty to their end customers to be both forthcoming, accountable and transparent in their day-to-day operations. I find it disturbing that you have elected to remain silent.”
The price of petrol and diesel continued its gradual fall of recent weeks in Shetland as the global price of oil fell to $64 a barrel yesterday, the lowest it has been since the first half of 2007 – a time when islanders were paying around £1 a litre for petrol, but the disparity with mainland prices appears to be as wide as ever.
The four big supermarkets and BP, Total and Shell all announced this week they were cutting their prices to around 97.9p a litre for petrol and around 109.9p for diesel.
Meanwhile a survey in Tuesday’s Scotsman found the average price for unleaded petrol in Scotland stood at 103p a litre, since when there has been a further drop in prices at the pump.
But at lunchtime yesterday the price at Lerwick’s three forecourts was 119.9p a litre for petrol and 127.9p for diesel, with the exception of Grantfield Garage where petrol was selling for 120.9p a litre. Aywick Shop in East Yell, traditionally among the cheapest places to buy fuel, was down to 116.0p for petrol and 124.0p for diesel. At Robinson & Morrison in Weisdale a litre of petrol cost 119.9p and diesel 127.9p, while at Mainlands in Dunrossness petrol was costing 119.9p a litre, with diesel setting motorists back 127.9p.
The Petrol Retailers Association said this week it was expecting further cuts over the coming months, although some consumer groups are warning the threat of an expected cut in oil production could see prices rise again.
Meanwhile, the council agreed this week to pursue talks, led by convener Sandy Cluness, with GB Oils after a call from councillor Alastair Cooper who believes the wholesaler is exploiting its position to push up charges. He told Wednesday’s meeting of the Full Council: “I do believe there is a cartel operating and it’s against the interests of this community.”
Mr Cooper referred to action taken in Orkney by some garage owners who he said had shaved eight pence off a litre of fuel by importing their own bulk supply instead of buying from GB Oils. Mr Cluness agreed to take up Mr Cooper’s suggestion and other local public bodies, including NHS Shetland, are to be asked if they wish to be included in the formal approach to GB Oils.
Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael has written to Prime Minister Gordon Brown drawing attention to what he described as the “grossly unfair” situation, after Mr Brown called for fuel distributors to lower their petrol prices.
“I am pleased that the Prime Minister has at last acknowledged the real importance and struggle many families face when filling up at the pumps,” Mr Carmichael said. “He must be aware however that we have in the Northern Isles a particular issue which the Treasury in all his years as chancellor failed to acknowledge, namely the 15-20 pence premium that we pay for our petrol at the pumps.
“As I said in my letter to the Prime Minister, quite frankly many people would be delighted to pay the petrol prices about which he is complaining. Of course we would not refuse any further reduction after that but in the first instance, he could easily address our position.”
• Anyone who wants to contact Mr Williams or GB Oils’ chief executive Sam Chambers can do so at the following email addresses: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.