Letter from Edinburgh 24.10.08

I’M writing this from Bressay, and having checked online the business numbers today it’s petrol that once again seems top of the inbox. Crude oil is today below $65 a barrel. Earlier this year it peaked at $146. It’s hard to imagine such a fall.

But wherever the hard pressed Shetlander buys petrol – the Mail Shop in Bressay or in the metropolis of Lerwick – there is one consistent point on petrol prices. We are as a community being utterly ripped off. Prime Minister Brown the other day suggested that petrol retailers should cut their price as international crude oil prices fall. He’s spot on. But that argument from the politician with most power in the UK rings a little hollow around here.

A Shetlander who has been involved in oil all his working years explained it to me the other day. It used to be that BP ran Grangemouth. Crossan Oils would import fuels into Shetland and then the local petrol retailer, with mark-up, would sell to the islander. Now, oil is sold by BP to be refined in Grangemouth. But it’s run by a venture capital com­pany. An Irish company GB Oils buys and distributes to Shetland, and then the local garage sells it on to you and I. In other words there are lots more middlemen all making money – and lots of it.

How else do these profiteers explain why Orkney garages are now importing fuel in road tankers from Thurso, knocking 8p a litre off the price as a result? And secondly, how can any of these “get rich at our expense” companies explain why I can fill up in Edinburgh where petrol is in the mid 90s? Yet here at home it is … well you know what it is.

We used to complain about a 10p difference between Aberdeen and Lerwick. Can that difference now really be approaching 25p a litre?

Politicians are meant to keep Obama-like calm at all times. Well most of the time. But if there is an issue which really gets me it’s when ordinary people, coping with the cost of living rises we’ve all seen recently, are being ripped off. I got my Hydro Electric letter this week explaining why the power is going up by more than a fifth. I did wonder about the timing with oil and gas in international freefall. But it’s nothing to what I feel about the business of turning North Sea crude into what makes the car get to the Bressay ferry tomorrow morning.

I think any business that is ripping off the Shetland public in the way the petrol distribution is should look out. From what people have said to me over the past week, the islands are not going to put up with this any longer. If NorthLink could, they should provide cut price deals for fuel tankers overnight from Aberdeen. Why should we put up with this?

Tavish Scott


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