Isles politicians Alistair Carmichael and Tavish Scott pressed representatives of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) to look again at the operation of the fuel market in Orkney and Shetland during a meeting in London this week.
The MP and MSP argued that figures obtained by the OFT on the price of fuel did not represent the difference in the cost of petrol and heating oil between the mainland and the isles accurately. The OFT has claimed that data it has gathered up to this point would not justify the use of legal powers to intervene in the market.
The OFT representatives confirmed that they plan to carry out additional investigative work into the difficulties facing communities in more remote areas. Preliminary findings on fuel are expected by the spring.
Mr Carmichael said although the fuel duty derogation coming into force in March would bring local drivers some measure of relief, the price differential remaining between the isles and the mainland went well beyond that which might be justified on grounds of transport or infrastructure costs.
He said: “I have been pressing the OFT on this issue since I was first elected in 2001 and their failure to get to grips with this problem has been a real disappointment. It is no surprise that the OFT do not have the answers they need to justify formal intervention when they have been so reluctant to ask the necessary questions to get this data. The message does seem to be getting through but it has been a difficult and frustrating process to get there.”
Mr Carmichael said although the assurances they received at the meeting were a case of “better late than never”, he was pleased that the OFT had recognised it needed more data on market conditions in more remote and island communities. He would be meeting the OFT again in the New Year to discuss the work as it progressed and would encourage constituents who had concerns over the way they are forced to buy their fuel to get in touch.
Mr Scott added: “In the past it has often seemed that the OFT simply did not know how much more Shetlanders were being asked to pay for their fuel than people on the mainland. I am pleased that they now recognise that lack of data is an issue and steps are being taken to rectify this unacceptable situation.
“In island communities like Shetland, high fuel prices affect almost everything we do. Every time we get in the car we are paying a premium that I do not believe is right or can be justified.
“The work that the OFT is now undertaking should make the extent of this problem clear. What we will then need to see is concrete action to ensure that local people are getting a fair deal on their fuel.”