An oil company boss has defended his firm’s record on fuel prices in the isles and denied abusing its monopoly position.
Sam Chambers, a non-executive director of GB Oils, insisted the company’s practices would stand up to scrutiny by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and claimed its profit margins were “reasonable”.
Mr Chambers said allegations that the company was prepared to push up prices ahead of the introduction of the coalition government’s 5p per litre fuel duty cut for islands were “manifestly untrue”.
But he refused to explain why motorists in the isles continued to pay substantial premiums for petrol or diesel over their mainland counterparts.
The OFT has agreed to examine fuel prices in the isles to establish whether circumstances have changed since they last investigated monopoly complaints 10 years ago. Fuel prices in Shetland have actually dipped slightly in recent weeks – but they are still much higher than prices charged elsewhere in the country.
Mr Chambers told The Shetland Times: “There is a sensitive issue on pricing in all the Western and Northern Isles. There is a question of transparency. There seems to be a perception we have been abusing our monopoly position by charging higher prices. We’d take a contrary view to that.”
Asked if he could explain the gulf between Shetland and mainland prices, he said: “I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to explain that when there are commercial aspects at play, but we would be quite happy for someone who is independent to examine our policies. I don’t think it’s appropriate to put those figures around newspapers, but we feel that our margins are reasonable.”
Mr Chambers recently attended a meeting with politicians in the Western Isles, where motorists face the same problems with high prices and monopolisation as their Shetland counterparts.
There Mr Chambers was heckled by protesters who attempted to get him to sign a petition calling for a fairer deal on fuel.
“There were rumours that we had decided to put up our prices ahead of the 5p price reduction. We told them that was manifestly untrue,” he said.
Mr Chambers said he had not received an invitation for a similar meeting in Shetland. He was last here a few years ago when he visited the isles during negotiations over the removal of large oil tanks at Lerwick’s North Ness over fears of a possible explosion, although the tanks still remain in place.
Isles MSP Tavish Scott, who was behind calls for the OFT to probe Shetland’s sole fuel supplier, insisted there was no point in extending an invitation for Mr Chambers to come here again.
“It’s pointless having him in Shetland. If you want a PR operation it’s fair enough, but if you want to make real progress it’s a waste of time. He’ll carry on making money until such time as the competition authority forces him to open up the books.”