Sunderland fuel protestors’ dismay over competition enquiry

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FUEL protesters on Wearside today spoke of their disappointment after the Office of Fair Trading rejected calls for an inquiry into claims of a lack of competition at the pumps.

The regulator found the UK’s £47billion road fuel sector was “working well” and maintained high prices were because of increasing crude oil rates and taxes – not a lack of competition.

As a result of its findings, it will not launch a full-scale probe, despite calls from campaigners.

Today, Paul Jasper, who has helped organise a series of fuel protests in Sunderland in recent years, said he would have welcomed an investigation, as well as the introduction of an official “stabilisation system” to eradicate price fluctuations and provide an early-warning alert of any rises.

“The AA pretty much led the way with this, so if they can’t get anywhere with the authorities then what chance does the ordinary man in the street have?” said the driving instructor.

“We would have liked to have seen something come out of this.

“The Government promised us a ‘stabilisation system’ when they first came to power, and they still haven’t delivered on that.

“Nobody knows what, if anything, would have come out of the investigation, but it would certainly have brought the problem into the spotlight.”

In the 10 years between 2003 and 2012, petrol prices increased from 76p per litre (ppl) to 136ppl, and diesel rose from 78ppl to 142ppl.

But the OFT stressed that over this period, taxes and duties rose by 24ppl and crude oil went up 33ppl.

It said it has not identified any evidence of anti-competitive behaviour at a national level – where competition was strong – but admitted there could be some issues at a local level.

The regulator also found “very limited evidence” that oil and gas companies do not pass on lower crude oil prices to retailers and motorists as quickly as they could.

“Five years ago, we held our first fuel protest here,” said Paul, from Castletown. “That was when the price rose from 80ppl to 82ppl. From then on, they went up and up and up.

“As I understand it, January was the lowest month for fuel consumption in a long time.

“This is having an effect on all road users.”

It comes amid concerns that pump prices rise quickly when the wholesale price of crude oil goes up but fall more slowly when it drops.

The chief executive of the OFT, Clive Maxwell, said: “We recognise that there has been widespread mistrust in how this market is operating.

“However, our analysis suggests that competition is working well, and rises in pump prices over the past decade or so have largely been down to increases in tax and the cost of crude oil.”

Twitter: @SunderlandEcho