A political row has broken out in the islands after the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) announced yet another investigation into why prices are continuing to rise at fuel pumps.
The OFT is to spend six weeks gathering evidence about whether competition is being curtailed, including a specific look at remote areas. The watchdog will also examine whether falling costs of crude oil are reflected in prices paid by motorists. It will publish its findings in January.
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott expressed his exasperation at the OFT for repeatedly failing to listen to the concerns of isles motorists who feel “ripped off” by high prices.
Mr Scott said: “Yet again the OFT has launched an inquiry into fuel prices – how many enquiries do the OFT need before they find Shetland is being ripped off? Will they actually listen, meet local customers and retailers now or is this yet another waste of time?”
He said a recent report showing Shetland motorists paid just over £250 more a year on fuel than those in Aberdeen had simply confirmed what islanders already knew.
“I have written to the OFT to invite them to the isles and to ask them, again, to help us all understand why we are paying so much at the pumps. It’s obviously not fair – I’m unsure why yet another expensive evidence-gathering exercise is needed, but let’s hope this one is actually a catalyst for change.”
But the SNP’s Highlands and Islands list MSP Jean Urquhart expressed disbelief at Mr Scott’s comments, describing him as “detached from reality” and questioning just what the Liberal Democrats have done on fuel prices as part of the UK coalition government.
Earlier this year, the coalition introduced a 5p-a-litre rebate scheme for remote areas including Shetland, but fuel prices remain considerably higher than in many other parts of the UK.
Petrol was hovering around £1.50 a litre and diesel as high as £1.55 a litre at some stations this week.
In a strongly-worded statement, Ms Urquhart said: “If Tavish really wants to see fuel prices reduced, perhaps he should have a word with his Liberal colleague in the Northern Isles, Alistair Carmichael.”
She said Mr Carmichael was part of a Tory-led coalition which had “consistently ignored” the SNP’s calls for a fuel duty regulator to be introduced to alleviate the appallingly high fuel prices in rural communities.
Ms Urquhart pointed out that the French government had this week struck a deal with fuel producers and distributors to cut the cost of fuel by six Euro cents per litre for three months.
“The Liberal Democrats are continuing to show that, despite taking the Conservatives’ 30 pieces of silver to form a coalition two years ago, they are delivering little for the islands and not giving their constituents the strong representation that they deserve.
“They are little more than a politically neutered human shield for an uncaring, Conservative-led government that continues to treat its most remote communities like dirt.”
Mr Carmichael welcomed the OFT’s announcement that prices would be reviewed, but expressed sympathy with those who are sceptical about whether it will result in any real changes.
“The government has taken action to keep prices down locally but it is clear by the number of emails and letters I receive on this topic every week that there are real issues within the market that need to be addressed,” he said.
“These issues fall squarely within the remit of the OFT and they need to ensure that they are meeting their obligations to consumers.
“Words are one thing, actions another. I will be looking for the OFT to take strong action against any oil company or wholesaler who can be shown to have abused their position and lined their pockets at the expense of local motorists.”