THE Consumer Council yesterday called on Northern Ireland’s supermarkets to end the policy of local fuel pricing as a report from the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) once again confirmed consumers here pay the most for fuel across the UK.
While the report found that the principle of competition was working well throughout the country as a whole, the OFT said comparatively low volumes in the Province in part accounted for higher prices here.
“This report provides details on why Northern Ireland consumers currently pay slightly more than in other regions of the UK,” said Consumer Council chief executive Antoinette McKeown.
“Based on average pump prices, looking at 12 regions of the UK, Northern Ireland is the joint most expensive region for diesel, alongside the South East (of England), and the most expensive for petrol.
“The report found that Northern Ireland prices are slightly higher due to the lower volumes of fuel sold and lower prevalence of supermarket chains which can drive competition in local areas.”
However, since the OFT was not proposing any further action in this area, she said consumers were still going to be paying high fuel costs.
“Consumer Council price monitoring for the week commencing 21st January, 2012 shows that prices differ by up six pence per litre (ppl) across the same supermarket outlets for the same type of fuel. The OFT report clearly indicates that large supermarkets can buy their fuel at a lower cost.
“We recognise that local pricing is not a competition issue but halting this practice and giving the best possible price to all NI consumers would show that supermarket retailers are doing right by their customers.”
Wilfred Mitchell, the Belfast-based policy chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said the report was bad news for the thousands of small firms everywhere dependent on their vehicles for everyday business activities.
“In recent years, we have seen a remorseless increase in the price of fuel that is paid at the pumps,” he said. “We believe there is a clear disconnect between wholesale fuel prices and the price hard-pressed motorists are forced to pay at the pump. When the price of oil increases fuel price rises follow soon afterwards, but reductions in the wholesale price are not being passed on when it falls.
“Our own research shows too many small firms are having to pass on rising costs to their customers and more than three-quarters of members believe their business is being negatively impacted by the high cost of fuel.
“The FSB is therefore deeply disappointed at the OFT’s decision not to launch a full investigation into the workings of the UK road fuel market. We believe that tough action is needed against those who are profiting at the expense of road-dependent small businesses.”
See Morning View, page 18