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OFT inquiry a huge opportunity, says MP

SHETLAND is one of seven locations in the UK chosen to give evidence to an Office of Fair Trading inquiry into the price of goods and services in remote communities.

The fact finding review is aimed to find out more about the challenges facing consumers and businesses in outlying communities.

Shetland and Highland will represent Scotland, while the OFT will go to Northumberland and Devon in England, Llyn Peninsula and Bridgend County in Wales, as well as County Tyrone in Northern Ireland.

Shetland’s MP Alistair Carmichael and MSP Tavish Scott have both lobbied the OFT over several years to investigate the high price of fuel in the northern isles.

Mr Carmichael said it represented an opportunity that “we must seize with both hands”.

He said: “The obvious market where we pay more than other communities is in road fuel and that has always been the primary focus for wanting an OFT investigation.

“The fact is, however, that there are several other areas where it can be argued that markets have failed us, such as the parcel post market where many companies outside the Royal Mail levy enormous extra charges on us. These areas too will be investigated.”

Mr Carmichael intends to contact the OFT to find out what they seek by way of evidence, and promised to work with Shetland Islands Council and “the widest possible range of local community and business organisations in encouraging local people to take part in this investigation”.

He stressed: “It is up to us to make our case for ourselves.  Nobody else is going to do it for us. If we do not use this opportunity now then it could be many years before we get another chance.”

He will also try to persuade the OFT to allow people in Orkney to take part in any evidence sessions held in Shetland via video conference or in person. OFT director Kyla Brand said: “’Geography and population density can have a major impact on the cost and accessibility of goods and services to consumers, and on how businesses operate.

“We want to get a clearer picture of these issues and understand and explain some of the reasons behind them. We also want to explore what the OFT, or other bodies could do to reduce the downsides, and maximise the benefits of remoteness.”

Consumers and businesses wishing to contribute to the study are requested to send their views before 20 April to the OFT Office in Scotland, 23 Walker Street, Edinburgh EH3 7HX, fill in an online form available from www.oft.gov.uk/remcom or email remotecommunities@oft.gsi.gov.uk.